One of the characteristics of the men and women who fought in WWII was their general inclination to privacy after they returned from the battles.
Last week, Dr. Gerald Fecht of the Museum of the San Fernando Valley interviewed my 89-year-old Uncle, Paul Cohen, about his experiences in the Army. Paul fought on Leyte Island, Mindanao and Okinawa. He earned a Bronze Star and other medals and returned to Chicago to join his wife, Frances and raise a family. Later on, he brought his family out to California and settled in the West Valley. Today, Commander Paul heads Post #603 of the JWV of the VFW.
In 1941, he worked, scooping ice cream at Chicago’s old Goldblatt’s Department Store, when the war began. He was drafted and trained at Ft. Sheridan and later in Oregon. Some of his stories involved the building of a baseball field in the jungles of Mindoro, making ice cream for the soldiers, and constructing make shift showers out of oil barrels and rope. His tongue, burning with history, recounted sitting on a hill and watching the firefight of the battle of Midway. Moments in time: chilling, funny, touching, heroic, and sometimes infuriating.
Not easily does Uncle Paul speak of that painful epoch of bloodshed, loss, sacrifice and brutality. He did so, in the hope that his generation’s actions on behalf of democracy will be remembered forever.
I am in the midst of a project now, to collect stories, take photographs, and record video of the Jewish War Veterans of the San Fernando Valley, who were part of the many men and women of all races, religions and creeds who battled Fascism and preserved the world’s freedom for our generation. These old soldiers are in the last months and years of their lives and it is critical, I believe, to try to beat the clock to preserve their stories, faces and memories.