On Veterans Day, a look at the service of Irv Cohen, 99, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
When you ask Irv Cohen about serving in World War II, he gives an answer reflecting the humility of a generation that lived through the Great Depression, fought what Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — who also served a term as president of the United States — called "The Great Crusade" and went on to raise families.
"I'm proud. I did the right thing, I did my job," said Cohen, now 99 years old.
The U.S. Army veteran served in Europe and experienced the bitter cold of the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded two Bronze Stars and the medal of which he is most proud: the Combat Infantry Badge,
Cohen, a native of the Bronx in New York, now lives at the Windsor, of Ocala.
His father and mother, Russian immigrants, operated a restaurant and deli. Cohen, who is Jewish, said that as the U.S. entered the war it was "common knowledge" that the German Reich was persecuting and killing Jews.
His sense of humor likely helped him endure the horrors of war.
Cohen's son, Bob, 64, of New York, a voice teacher and entertainer, said in an email that his father's "natural way with people" was good for morale.
Irv Cohen was going to City College of New York at night, studying Spanish literature and working days as a mail censor with the War Department, when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. He was drafted on Feb. 2, 1942, at age 21.
According to a biography Cohen supplied, he went to basic training at Camp Croft, South Carolina, and Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was assigned to the 84th Infantry Division at Camp Howze, Texas, and assigned to the 334th Regiment
While at Camp Howze, Cohen met his future wife, Fredell, who was living in the Dallas area and going to school.
"She wanted to get married," Cohen said. But he did not want her to become a widow or have to care for a wounded soldier. So he asked her to wait until his return.
Cohen recalled breaking through the German defensive known as the Siegfried Line. He said soldiers had to "crawl on their belly" to get through a devastating "field of fire" and get close enough to toss a bomb down pipes attached to the fortifications.
Cohen said he recalled seeing his first causality, a German soldier.
"You had to harden yourself," he said.
The 84th Division traveled through France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany
Cohen helped set up and operate a command post at Marche, in Luxembourg, Belgium. The Army history website states the 84th Division command post was set up on Dec. 21, 1944.
He witnessed massive artillery barrages sent out by the Army and "tremendous destruction" in the Ardennes.
Cohen had several encounters with advancing Russian units, was involved in Army intelligence, and was part of the Army of Occupation in Germany.
Cohen has a number of photographs taken during his WW II service, including one taken in a European town as the Allies approached the heart of Germany. Cohen, a captain, is shown questioning a suspected female German sniper as he worked as a regimental intelligence officer.
Another photo shows him with a group of American soldiers and officers during a historical meeting with Russian soldiers near the Elbe River.
Cohen was recognized for his work with Graves Registration in the Army for devising a method to help find the remains of soldiers buried in the snow using a metal detecting minesweeper.
Cohen was preparing for service in Japan when he heard the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.
Cohen was separated from the service in May 1946. He married Fredell in 1949 and earned a law degree from St. John's University. He practiced real estate and some immigration law for 35 years and moved to Ocala about 10 years ago.
His wife died last year.
Cohen also has a daughter, Janet Block, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ demographic tables at www.va.gov indicate Marion County had an estimated 36,681 veterans as of September. Of those, about 5,068 are age 85 or older.
The VA tables show Florida had roughly 43,000 World War II veterans in 2018. By this year, the number was at approximately 34,000. By 2024, it’s expected to be around 7,000.
Dr. Mark Knapp, chief medical officer at the Ocala VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic from 2005 until his retirement in 2016, said he has been "brought to tears " by the stories he has heard from WW II veterans. He called the stories "history with an impact."
Knapp recalled being moved after speaking with Steve Raymond, co-author with Mike Pride of "Too Dead to Die: A Memoir of Bataan and Beyond," which is an account of Raymond's experience as a POW and in the Bataan Death March.
Jeffrey Askew, director of the Marion County Veteran Service Office, praised the contributions of WW II veterans.
"If it had not been for their courage and dedication to our nation, where would we be? We must not forget to honor them," Askew stated.
Bob Cohen said his father is a "true patriot."
"My father has a deep love of the decency and fair-mindedness that America stands for at it's best." he stated.