Thank you, KCET, for this honor. As an immigrant, I am proud to be an American by choice. As a real-life 'Rosie the Riveter' and American soldier, I was able to pay back this country that I love for allowing me to become an American. As a community volunteer, I was able to give back to humanity."
World War II veteran Bea Cohen has spent more than 70 years of her 102-year-old life giving back to the United States and supporting the American military.
She collected black widow spiders and sent them to the University of Southern California so that their strong webs could be used in the crosshairs in the sites of submarine periscopes during the Second World War. She also expressed her patriotism by working at Douglas Aircraft Company and becoming a Rosie the Riveter - one of the thousands of female factory workers who contributed to the war effort by producing munitions and war supplies.
Despite her efforts, Ms. Cohen wanted to give more to the country who gave her and her family, who left Romania to restart their lives in the United States, their newfound freedom. She gave her notice to Douglas Aircraft Company and joined the U.S. Army. Douglas Aircraft Company offered her five cents more per hour to stay, but she did not budge. Ms. Cohen said that immigrants are what made America what it is today; and now veterans are carrying on what immigrants began. She hopes people will honor, remember and thank veterans for their service and sacrifices. She traveled all over the United States and was assigned for service overseas. During her stay in Stone, England, she witnessed history in the making - American planes on their way to invade Normandy.
As Private First Class Abrams assigned in Elveden, England, about 90-miles from London, Ms. Cohen worked in the communications department with top-secret mimeographed documents, kitchen patrol and relieved the stress of being in the military by singing in a choir and playing in an all female baseball team, a sport she loves. She hopes people will also remember the service of remember of Women Veterans, who were pilots, doctors, dentists, clerks, nurses and much more. She said that there isn't anything a woman cannot do.
After the war, she married Ray Cohen, a former prisoner of war who was imprisoned in Corregidor Island, Philippines for more than three years. Together, they became involved with an Ex-POW group that still meets at Veterans Home of California - West Los Angeles.
Ms. Cohen is one of the few people alive who witnessed the beginning of World War I in 1914, when, at age four, she and her brother, sister and mother watched while low- flying airplanes dropped bombs on the factories next to her backyard in Buhush, Romania.
She has been instrumental to many philanthropic organizations, including the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary Post 667, where she became its child welfare chairperson. She has also been involved with the United Cerebral Palsy - Spastic Children's Foundation for more than 35 years, where she coordinated various outings for the children. She made lap blankets for veterans at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital and continues to offer friendship and kindness to veterans. She also volunteered at the Los Angeles Air Force Base for Family Services, and also for the City of Hope.
Up until one year ago, from 1961 to 2011, Ms. Cohen took upholstery classes, making wheelchair and walker bags for Veterans, as well as lap robes and blankets and learned how to upholster her own furniture. All she needed help with was a ride to and from her class. If the class had not lost funding, she would still be taking upholstery classes today. She hopes that this class will be made available to veterans to help them learn a trade.
In 1990, Ms. Cohen became legally blind. In 2003, Mr. Cohen passed away. But like a true soldier, Ms. Cohen marches on. She still attends Ex-POW meetings at the Veterans Home of California - West Los Angeles, offers a sense of comraderie to the ex-soldiers, attends the Blinded Veterans Association of Southern California meetings and continues to touch the lives of America's heroes. When asked what she would like to accomplish in 2012, she answered, "...to collect clean, white socks for homeless veterans, and to meet First Lady Michelle Obama."
She continues to cook a Sader Dinner at her home each year for Passover for up to 20 friends and family members. Ms. Cohen has two daughters, an extended family and many friends. She said, "Our men and women veterans are America's real heroes."