This interview is being made at the Columbus, Ohio Jewish Historical Society and I’m interviewing Mr. Joseph Cohen and my name is David Graham and we’ll be talking about the experiences of Joseph during and leading up to World War II. So let’s begin, Joe, why don’t we start particularly a little bit of family background. Are you native to Columbus, Ohio and we’ll kind of take it, I would recommend we would do it sort of year-by-year from the thirties on to whenever, let’s see, you got out of service and then let’s also touch about your business career. It’s always interesting to me how that background fits in to your experience.
Interviewer: All right.
Cohen: I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, May 3, 1926 so as from the date you can imagine that I was a, you might call me a Depression-era child. We lived in Hartford until 1932 when the Depression really hit hard. My father was a carpenter by trade and when the Depression hit the jobs became rare or unavailable and the family decided that we would then move to Boston, Massachusetts, which we did in 1932. I was about six years old at the time. So in Boston we lived in a suburb called Everett, Mass. for about a year and then we moved to Roxbury, Massachusetts where we lived from 1932 until I went in the service in 1944. Times were tough during the 30s. My father had to scrape to find work. I do have a record that he had worked part-time for the government at the Navy Yard in Boston for a while and then he started finding jobs as a carpenter here and there and things began to pick up economically for us toward the end of the 30s. My mother, by the way my father was an immigrant from Russia who immigrated to this country in 1910.
Interviewer: Excuse me. I’ll ask just a few questions that give more background. You might have been ready to tell me this but do you know where in Russia he was born.
Cohen: He was born in a small town about sixty miles northwest of Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine.
Interviewer: Ukraine, yeah, okay. So he would be a Ukrainian today.
Cohen: Ukrainian, yes, today.
Interviewer: It’s an independent country.
Cohen: Today. At the time that he lived there it was a part of Russia.
Interviewer: Uh huh. The family name going back in Russia, the same or?
Cohen: The family name in Russia was Kunik, K-U-N-I-K which was changed to Cohen when he immigrated to this country at Ellis Island.
Interviewer: Did he come by himself or with a family?
Cohen: By himself.
Interviewer: Did he have friends waiting for him, some…
Cohen: His brother had previously immigrated three years before.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Cohen: Joseph, Joseph Kunik.
Interviewer: Okay, I’ll let you take over from there. Joseph Kunik, huh?
Cohen: Yeah. And Joseph had changed his name to Cohen at Ellis Island so when my father arrived there, they gave my father the same name. My mother came also from the Ukraine, from a town called Baranovka. She came over much later after World War I in 1921 and they met a year or two later and got married here in the United States. She…my mother died in 1937. She was 38 years old. She contracted pneumonia and at that time there was very little medication that could help to cure her and she died of that disease.
Interviewer: My, you were only 11 years old.
Cohen: Yep. So…
Interviewer: Brothers and sisters at that time, did you have?
Cohen: I had an older sister and I had a younger brother, Sam and a younger sister Marion. My older sister who was 21 at the time actually agreed to raise us and she did. So we grew up from 1937 on without a mother but with my sister raising us.
Interviewer: What was her name, first name?
Cohen: Yeah, Betty. That in a nutshell is the basic story of my early years until I went into the service in 1944. We scraped along. I had many, many different kinds of jobs to earn a few bucks here and there such as delivering newspapers, working part-time in a delicatessen, delivering other kinds of groceries for various grocery stores and odds and ends to earn a buck or two to help out with the funds that we needed.
Interviewer: And this was all in the Roxbury area of Boston?
Cohen: Yeah, all in Roxbury.
Interviewer: What kind of a neighborhood was that at the time? Was it a mixed ethnic kind of…
Cohen: It was a Jewish neighborhood.
Interviewer: It was Jewish?
Cohen: Totally Jewish.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Cohen: I think we had one non-Jewish family living on our street. But the whole neighborhood was Jewish and the whole area was Jewish.
Interviewer: Was there a local synagogue then that you all went to?
Cohen: Well we did but we didn’t belong to any synagogue but we went to different ones especially on the High Holydays.
Interviewer: Did you have Hebrew School in your…
Cohen: Yep, went to Hebrew School and graduated from the Hebrew School called Menorah Institute in 1941 and so that was basically my background as a youth growing up. Learned to play the cornet in grade school. My father gave me the cornet that he had played with. By the way I have to say that my father also served in the Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese War. He did his stint as a soldier in the Russian Army prior to coming to the United States.
Interviewer: What, was he regular Infantry-type soldier?
Cohen: He was a Cavalryman.
Interviewer: A Cavalryman? Isn’t that…
Cohen: A Cavalryman. Actually rode on a horse. In those days the Cavalry was a true cavalry.
Interviewer: That would be about 1904?
Interviewer: Yeah, that time period.
Cohen: ’04 or ’05 era, yeah. He was born in 1886 so…
Interviewer: Do you remember did he ever comment as to why he left Russia?
Cohen: Well certainly the reasons were universal. The Jews were looked down upon in Russia. They were harassed and tormented. They just didn’t have a good life in Russia.
Interviewer: Did he mention anything like that that he experienced?
Cohen: I can remember him telling me that when he was a soldier, Jewish soldier, walking down the street and an officer came by and he had to get off the sidewalk and get into the street so that officer could pass by. They were looked down upon. Yeah I can remember him mentioning that when I was young. Basically that is it. So I learned to play the cornet and I went through the public school system in Boston and in the sixth grade I was recommended to go to a special invitational high school called Boston Latin School which I went into in the seventh grade, seven through twelve. This was a school that was selective. You had to take tests to get in and I was accepted and I went through all those years in middle school and high school at Boston Latin School. I was in the class of 1944.
Interviewer: Let me ask you, what was special about that school where they had, you were selected for that? Must have been something they thought you were sort of better student for them or…
Interviewer: What was it beyond that?
Cohen: They selected the better students from the various grade schools in Boston. I believe there were about 19 grade schools at the time in the city and they selected the top one or two in each school to go to the Latin School.
Interviewer: Was an advanced kind of a school program? When you say “Latin,” I mean it makes me think they taught you Latin. I don’t know.
Cohen: They did.
Interviewer: Oh is that right?
Cohen: Latin was the main course. Latin was the main course.
Interviewer: How did you like that? How did you find that?
Cohen: I liked it. I went through all the years at school and the school was mainly a prep school for college. That was THE prep school that you went to. I was just reading in the paper the other day, a magazine that I got from the school, which I’m still a member of the Alumni Association, and of the graduates this year of that school, 27 of them went on to Harvard. Now that’s a phenomenal percentage.
Cohen: Most schools get one or two and this school had 27 that went on the Harvard.
Interviewer: As of yet today.
Cohen: As of right now, of today, yeah. Gives you an idea of the quality of the education.
Interviewer: So that, you graduated in ’41 then?
Cohen: In ’44.
Interviewer: Oh ’44, ’44.
Cohen: I was in the class of ’44.
Interviewer: Uh huh, okay.
Interviewer: Okay. Now the war had been under way for the U.S. for about three years. I thought for our interviewer a background related to World War II would be interesting to have your comments about, how did you sort of experience the war as a young man seeing that this War is ongoing, that you may be involved in it? Did you have much visibility? Did you follow the war in the papers? Friends going off to war, that kind of thing?
Cohen: Yes I did. As a matter of fact I had the personal distinction of helping out in the War in three ways. In the summer of ’42, I was 16 years old. I went to work on a farm about 15 miles outside of Boston and that farm, about 150-acre farm, supplied produce of various kinds, a big portion of which went to Lend-Lease countries such as England and Scotland and Russia. Every week when I was there during that summer, we would load up a truck of produce, non-perishable-type produce such as radishes and beets and carrots and ship them to Boston Harbor which was 15 miles away, put them on a boat and ship them over to these various countries which were in desperate need of them.
Interviewer: You knew the destination at that time?
Cohen: I knew about where they were going.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: Yeah. I didn’t know the exact destination.
Interviewer: But you knew they were leaving the U.S.?
Cohen: I knew they were leaving, part of the shipment was leaving for the Lend-Lease program.
Interviewer: Part of the war effort, huh?
Cohen: Then the next year I was 17 years old that summer. I was still in high school. The need for personnel, the need for help was so desperate that I was able to get a job at the Bethlehem Steel Company Forb River Shipyard, also just outside of Boston, where I worked as a laborer that summer and I worked on two big ships that were being built at that time. One was the USS Canberra which was a heavy cruiser, the only heavy cruiser named for a capital outside of the United States.
Interviewer: Australia isn’t it?
Cohen: Yeah, Australia, USS Canberra, yeah.
Interviewer: What did you do as a worker?
Cohen: Cleaned, swept floors, cleaned, cleaned bilges, did anything that a laborer had to do.
Interviewer: How did you get such a job? I mean it’s curious that you…
Cohen: I wondered myself.
Cohen: To this day I can’t remember…
Interviewer: Something you applied for?
Cohen: exactly how I got it but I was able to get it that summer and I didn’t have a car or anything but there were many workers within the Roxbury area who were going there every day, traveling back and forth, and I paid somebody so much money to ride in their car. We were filled up with maybe six people in the car at the time.
Interviewer: Car pooling?
Interviewer: Let me ask you know, a little, broaden the subject a little bit as I think about your experience. Let’s take that summer of ’43. By that time maybe some of your older classmates that you recall or friends of the neighborhood had gone off to war and we began to have combat, certainly in the Pacific, and let’s say in Africa, Northern Africa. Did you begin to see any of the men coming back with wounds or any word of casualties, anything that you recall?
Cohen: Yes. My best friend who I grew up with in Roxbury, his name was Julius Brooks, lived across the street from me. He was about a year older than me and he went off to war, actually ahead of me and he went to Europe and was severely wounded in Holland, Belgium or Holland, I can’t recall which, and he was hit by shrapnel in the face, lost an eye and a part of his cheekbone and so forth and that was my first experience with wounded veterans.
Interviewer: Hmmm, he lived across the street from you?
Cohen: Across the street.
Interviewer: Did you see him eventually come home from the war?
Cohen: Yes I did. I saw him a few times after the War. He was in hospitals for many, many years in various places.
Interviewer: Now his last name was Brooks. Was he Jewish?
Cohen: Yeah he was Jewish.
Interviewer: Okay. Anyway you said your neighborhood was…
Interviewer: So he was a friend. Anyone else?
Cohen: There were other friends. I can’t remember any that were specifically wounded. He was the only one that I knew.
Interviewer: Now this was, Julius was wounded before you entered, we know you went into ASTP, I mean you were seeing this. Did you, did this make you want to join or did you, apprehension, you know…
Cohen: No I had no apprehensions. It merely happened that, I can’t remember where I was at the time that it happened but I kept in touch with him, corresponding with him in the various hospitals and we kept in touch throughout the War.
Interviewer: Okay that’s interesting. Well let me return back to your summer there at the shipyard. You said there were two ships. What was the other ship?
Cohen: The Carrier Wasp, USS Wasp.
Interviewer: Now that’s a quite famous…
Cohen: That was the second Wasp.
Interviewer: Yes, okay.
Cohen: The second. The first Wasp was sunk in the Pacific during the War and so I was fortunate enough to help out in building the second Wasp which was still on the dock on the ways, was out of the water when I was working on it. It was a massive, massive ship. I can’t remember. It was so tall you just could hardly see the top of it when it was just setting on the dry dock.
Interviewer: Very impressive.
Cohen: And it was very impressive to me as a 16-year-old kid to be a part of that war effort.
Interviewer: You actually got on board that…
Cohen: On board on both the Wasp and the Canberra.
Interviewer: Did you get any sort of credit for that, I mean in terms of you know, we know that Martin, we interviewed Martin Kopp in the Merchant Marine. He didn’t get credit for many, many years. How about recognition for those of you who worked on war production and actual hands-on? Did anything ever come back as a thank you or…
Cohen: The only thank you I had, I guess you could call it a thank you, is that during the summer of 1943 the people in charge pleaded with me to stay on and not go back to school for my senior year. They were so desperate for help they were willing to teach me a trade such as a machinist or an electrician or plumber or what have you. They desperately needed personnel. They worked on me day after day but I refused.
Interviewer: They wanted to keep you?
Cohen: Yep, so.
Cohen: That was the only recognition you might say in that. Other than that there were no medals or…
Interviewer: Didn’t count credit for any wartime…
Cohen: The only credit I got was in my Social Security record.
Interviewer: Oh that there, huh. Ah there you go.
Cohen: That’s right.
Interviewer: your credits there…
Cohen: Yeah and I had to join the union too. Everybody there was union so I became a union member. I believe it was the CIO at that time. We had to…
Interviewer: Congress of Industrial Organizations, I think that was the title of it.
Cohen: Uh huh.
Interviewer: That’s remarkable. So you’re an early member of the CIO?
Cohen: Yeah, early.
Interviewer: You had your card?
Cohen: Sixteen years old.
Interviewer: Did you keep your card? It would add something.
Cohen: So following that, I believe it was the end of May, June, July, August. In September I went back to my high school for my senior year.
Interviewer: September of forty?
Cohen: September of 1943.
Interviewer: ’43. Uh huh. Well good.
Cohen: I was in my senior year of high school around November of ’43 where a notice came around saying that we could apply for college training under the Army Specialized Training Program, a notice on one of the bulletin boards. That was somewhere around October or November of 1943. And also at that time, David, things were of a sort that if you had enough credits in high school, you could apply to college early in order to fill the college ranks which were depleted at that time and I had enough credits that I decided that I would apply to go to a school called Boston College. I believe it was November 1943. And I got accepted.
Interviewer: Did that have anything to do with the ASTP at that time?
Cohen: Not yet.
Cohen: Not yet.
Cohen: Things were happening so fast that you couldn’t keep up with all the changes that were going on. So I applied to Boston College, got accepted and I started in Boston College in January, first of January, 1944 and within a week ASTP notified me that I was accepted by them to go to one of their schools and I was assigned to a college called Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts, which I started attending in February, 1944.
Interviewer: How did you handle all this change? I mean Boston College is a great school.
Cohen: It was a wonderful school.
Interviewer: And here you’re kind of, wow!
Cohen: I was teetering as to what to do but I decided I better take the ASTP offer so I dropped out of Boston College within a month.
Interviewer: Had you received a draft notice or taken a physical or anything at any time?
Cohen: No, no.
Interviewer: You were draft-deferred for school then?
Cohen: Nothing. I wasn’t old enough.
Interviewer: Oh, okay.
Cohen: I wasn’t 18.
Interviewer: Being 17, you were, okay. They weren’t after you yet?
Cohen: I wasn’t old enough at 17. But as young people at that time with the War going on, you had to make decisions and my best decision was to take the ASTP offer and go to Amherst College.
Interviewer: Well now the thought comes to mind, did you have a girlfriend? Were you making any plans?
Cohen: Yeah I had some girlfriends but nothing pressing.
Interviewer: Nothing serious huh?
Cohen: Nope. So I went to Amherst in what they called a Basic College Program which I was there from February through July of 1944, two terms.
Interviewer: Had you been thinking of your particular career in college or your major or whether you were planning to be a doctor, lawyer…
Cohen: I was planning Pre-Med when I went to Boston College but that was just at that time because the ASTP program was slanted more toward Engineering. They needed technical help more than anything else at that time.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: So I went to Amherst for two terms. The result of those two terms is that I had turned 18 in May of 1944. Then I was obligated to go into Basic Training in the Army and that, so at the end of July they assigned me to Basic Training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, August 11 through December of 1944. I believe it was 17 weeks of Basic Training in the Infantry. That was mainly what personnel they needed at that time. The war was going on and the desperate need was for Infantry soldiers rather than anything else.
Interviewer: That’s quite a change from a career in Pre-Med or Engineering, coming off…
Cohen: Yeah quite a change.
Interviewer: And here you are learning how to fire an M1 rifle and…
Cohen: Oh right through all of the different weapons. Seventeen weeks of training and if you’ll notice the timing, August of 1944 to December of 1944, there was a euphoria in the Army at that time toward late August. We had entered Paris in August 29th. The war effort seemed to be going great. Everything in the crossing through Europe at a rather brisk pace. We had finally broken out of the Normandy area and with Patton’s Third Army we were going great guns across France. Everybody was in a state of high euphoria at that time and things were going good.
Interviewer: So your guys in the Army were aware of all that?
Interviewer: A couple of the officers were thinking that they weren’t going to die and…
Cohen: Gonna come home soon.
Interviewer: in a long, prolonged war?
Cohen: Yeah. They were thinking, they were thinking along those lines. Well between August and December of 1944 while I was in Basic Training, the various armies were moving across Europe there and were actually into Germany. In December of ’44, they had actually touched into Germany in one area north of Luxembourg and that’s when the Germans counterattacked, the Battle of the Bulge, December 15, 1944. I got out of Basic Training December 24, 1944. So within a little more than week that happened. Well by a stroke of fortunate luck, I call it luck, a notice came on the Bulletin Board at Camp Wheeler saying those who had been in ASTP before could reapply. I was one of those rare cases, to have served two sessions in the ASTP. I reapplied and got accepted to go to Ohio State.
Interviewer: Ahhh, that’s how you got…
Cohen: That’s how I got…
Interviewer: …to Ohio?
Cohen: Ohio State.
Interviewer: Because at that point I’m aware of in my studies, that in December of 1944 they needed men in Europe.
Cohen: They certainly did.
Interviewer: And it seems like they could have taken you directly, but you would have been in Europe by January.
Cohen: And all of the people that I trained with were there in Europe, all of them, yeah.
Interviewer: Did they form any kind of a unit that went over or did they go over as replacements?
Interviewer: So those guys you trained with…
Cohen: Everybody that I trained with were replacements.
Interviewer: Did you ever have any continuity of contact with them? Did they, do you know the outcome of some of these guys by name or?
Cohen: One person that I remember who went over there, I believe his name was Polizi, I remember somehow finding out that he had served in action and was highly decorated. I don’t know what unit he was in or anything like that. He became a sergeant and he was highly decorated and somebody told me about him. And that’s all that I can recall.
Interviewer: Kind of curious. Because of that timing of December 24, they might have started to call up some of your men. I wonder did they actually call any away before you left on the 24th? I’m trying to get a feel for how quickly did that situation in Europe have an impact on guys in training. You were able to what, go home on leave or?
Cohen: We went home on leave.
Interviewer: So that training class was released?
Cohen: And I’m not sure how much leave they had but they were immediately sent overseas, practically immediately sent overseas.
Interviewer: The men in your training class?
Interviewer: But you must have gotten other orders then, huh?
Cohen: That was a certificate of my training.
Interviewer: Uh huh, the certificate that you completed Basic Training December 23, 1944.
Interviewer: “Especially qualified for a rifleman.”
Interviewer: This is quite an item. I can make a copy of that for the archives. I’ve never seen one of these certificates. Well probably a lot of guys have them but I’ve never seen, that’s pretty neat.
Interviewer: And in your case as you said, it’s quite remarkable to see those dates you were in training and the events in Europe that…
Cohen: The dates are very important.
Interviewer: taken your, yeah.
Cohen: The dates.
Interviewer: Yeah, December 23.
Cohen: Very important. That was…
Cohen: one week after the Battle of the Bulge began.
Cohen: Exactly one week.
Interviewer: And you’re trained as a rifleman and wow! They need you but you luckily have this assignment to Ohio State.
Cohen: Luckily, by absolute luck…
Interviewer: No one else in your group…
Cohen: Nobody in my group. I was the only one and I, to this day, don’t know exactly how it developed and why it developed.
Interviewer: Did you make any particular friendship with an officer…
Interviewer: who might have given you some…
Cohen: None whatsoever.
Interviewer: special consideration and say, “Hey this guy needs to do better.”
Cohen: So that luck of the posting on the bulletin board led to my finishing Basic Training and ending up at Ohio State.
Interviewer: Oh so you had actually applied as you said? You saw that notice?
Cohen: I saw the notice.
Interviewer: You made the effort to apply?
Interviewer: Okay. Did that notice say that that program would then make you an officer or something?
Cohen: There was always that underlying element, always. Although it wasn’t etched in stone. It was implied that we would become officers. And in the Navy, the same program which was called the V12 Program, the Navy guaranteed that if you went into it, you would become an officer. The Army did not guarantee that. They implied it. That was one of the differences, the major differences, between the ASTP Program and the V12 program. Many of my friends from high school went into the V13 and became officers immediately, soon after training.
Interviewer: I’m curious about that December-Christmas time. Well for Christians, Christmas time, holy days. Do you recall that December, what you did, how you experienced-celebrated the holy days or anything like that?
Cohen: No I can’t recall anything special.
Interviewer: Was it kind of like your last…you went home to what, your sister running the household?
Cohen: Yep, yep.
Interviewer: Did she write to you during your time or did she…
Cohen: Oh yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: Yeah. I kept in touch with the family, kept in touch with the family and friends, including my friend Julius Brooks, the one who was wounded in action. And so I spent the next three terms from February through October of 1945 at Ohio State under the ASTP Program.
Interviewer: Three quarters at Ohio State?
Cohen: Being, and we didn’t call it quarters. They were actually quarters but we had many more credit hours than a normal quarter…Yeah many more.
Interviewer: Curious about that, did they choose your program of studies for you?
Cohen: They certainly did.
Interviewer: All right, okay.
Cohen: They sent me to study Civil Engineering.
Interviewer: I see.
Cohen: Not my choice. That was their choice. Yeah I became a Civil Engineer not by choice but by necessity, you might say.
Interviewer: It was the Army’s…
Cohen: Yes the Army’s decision.
Interviewer: How many were in your class or group or how did they organize quite a number?
Cohen: Uh huh. In my specific group, this was…
Interviewer: I have a document here. Let’s take a picture, photograph.
Cohen: There’s a picture of my unit.
Interviewer: Okay there’s your unit, 1945. Looks like we have about 20 men.
Cohen: There were many more different groups.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: But that was my group, Civil Engineering.
Interviewer: Where, I don’t recognize the building. Is…
Cohen: Townsend Hall I believe.
Interviewer: Townsend, okay. I didn’t have a lot of classes there.
Cohen: Did you go there?
Interviewer: Yes I did. I think Townsend was on Neil Avenue.
Cohen: Yes, that was it.
Interviewer: There we go, okay. I don’t know if it’s still there today.
Cohen: Yes it’s still there.
Interviewer: Okay. So this spot…
Cohen: You can see this…
Interviewer: We could stand at that spot today.
Cohen: You can see that today, right there, the pillars are still there.
Interviewer: Still just like that.
Interviewer: So before and after standing at the spot of this wartime photo.
Cohen: Yeah. That was our building, from various parts of the country.
Interviewer: About what time of the year? You’re all dressed sort of…
Cohen: I think it was around…
Interviewer: Topcoats. It might have been Spring or?
Cohen: Spring. I would say May of 1945, May.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: That was about the time that the War ended in Europe.
Interviewer: In August, yeah.
Cohen: May 8th.
Interviewer: Well that’s right, yeah, May 8th, yeah, I know.
Cohen: May 8th was the time that the War ended in Europe and we were studying Civil Engineering. Obviously you might, the question comes up as you brought up, why did it happen that in December I lucked out in getting to go back to Ohio State. I believe the euphoria of the government, the War Department, was such that they were beginning to plan for the invasion of Japan.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: And they knew that they were going to need technical personnel for that invasion and I believe that that was the primary reason why they reopened the ASTP to a certain small group, after they had cancelled the program previously.
Interviewer: Okay. It had been cancelled and restarted for your class then, is that it?
Cohen: Yeah restarted.
Interviewer: As I said, I’m familiar with the 94th Division. But they just took them, took the whole bunch and that’s it, you’re going?
Interviewer: So you’re coming in, kind of interesting. I wonder if your teachers were wondering what happened to the guys we were just teaching? Was there any kind of a sense that, wow, we’re filling the ranks with a bunch of guys who just went off to war? Is that’s, that’s been sort of a theme with an ASTP man, isn’t it? Well they were just taken right out of the ASTP, never completed with it. In your case you probably were restarting.
Cohen: We were sort of looked down upon. The ASTP was not what you want, the other soldiers looked down upon us as sort of being, for want of a better term, avoiding combat. But it wasn’t to our fault that we were in this particular, you might say situation. It so happened that luck played an important part. Just the same as the ones who were yanked out had the bad luck of being yanked out. We were lucky enough to be put in. This just happened.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: So I’ve always felt through life that the luck was on my side. If you had served in the Army, you knew that you had no control over your life. Somebody else made the decisions for you whether you were going to be in the Infantry or the Air Force or Artillery or what have you. You had no choice.
Interviewer: In that regard did they put you in a particular dormitory or how did they, how were your living conditions determined by the program?
Cohen: They had already contracted with the University that we were going to be based in certain dorms.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: This was our dorm, Baker Hall, that became an Army unit.
Interviewer: Did you wear your uniform all the time?
Interviewer: I mean like regular? Was it like… (tape ends) Okay this is Side 2 of cassette tape #1 here of our interview with Joe Cohen. Not sure if we were able to record before that Side A stopped, the fact that we were talking about, Joe was describing the end of his ASTP Program was terminated. They abolished the program and those at Ohio State were assigned to the 5th Infantry Division at Camp Campbell in Kentucky. Was that Western Kentucky that is now the Airborne…
Interviewer: yeah, way on near the Tennessee border.
Cohen: It’s now the home of the 101st Airborne.
Interviewer: Now the home of the 101st and you were assigned there and not, you were not released from your active duty service even though you had two years by that time. Were the others, were you all as a group sent there or just some of you out of that…
Cohen: All as a group that were sent there.
Interviewer: All the Ohio State men were sent there?
Cohen: All in our group were sent there.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: Yep. When we got there of course, many of the soldiers who had been with the Fifth Infantry Division were being discharged. They had what they called the point system if you’ll recall. Those with points could be discharged faster than those without points. We were in the lowest class of points.
Interviewer: That’s interesting. Did you have points?
Cohen: Very few.
Interviewer: They were assigning points…
Cohen: Assigning points based on your length of service and your combat situation and so forth. So we knew that we were stuck, so to speak, for a while and we ended up being assigned to more or less fill up the ranks of those who were being let go, discharged. Again by luck, we had an interview and, each of us, and they asked us what type of work we would best be suited in and I had been in my high school band. I mentioned earlier I had played the cornet and so I told them that I was a band player and baritone horn player and so they assigned me to the Fifth Infantry Division Band.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Cohen: Yeah. I became a baritone horn player in the Fifth Infantry Division Band and served out my term of duty until July, June 30 of 1946, as a musician in the Fifth Infantry Division Band.
Interviewer: They kept you almost another year?
Cohen: Yeah, before I was able to be discharged.
Interviewer: So you now have almost three years?
Interviewer: What did the band do for that year?
Cohen: Almost every day we had a parade on the parade grounds. All of these camps had a parade ground and almost every day we would march past “in review” they called it, which is a, you might say, a parade where the various units of the Division pass by the Commanding General or the high-ranking officer, whoever is in charge, and we would play, march down the field and play for the various units of the Division, one different unit maybe each day. And it might be the Fifth Engineer Battalion would parade or the Fifth Reconnaissance Group or what have you and we would provide the music for that group. So we had things to do and then we rehearsed every morning and basically that was it.
Interviewer: I’m curious. I’m familiar with the Fifth Infantry Division has a great, good combat record with particularly capturing the French or the German-occupied citadel of Metz.
Interviewer: And then also being involved in the Battle of the Bulge, so you might have heard about some of those battles and those stories and perhaps some of the men were in those parades.
Cohen: I can’t recall anything specific. Most of them were gone.
Interviewer: There was a General Irwin that I remember.
Cohen: Irwin, yes.
Interviewer: Was he still…
Cohen: I can’t recall.
Interviewer: He was commanding in Europe. Most of those were changed.
Interviewer: Any names of prominence that you might have seen or encountered?
Cohen: None that I can recall right now, none.
Interviewer: They were under Patton’s Third Army.
Cohen: Yes, under Patton’s…
Interviewer: But he stayed in Europe so you wouldn’t…
Cohen: Uh huh. And died in Europe?
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Interviewer: You have quite a folder of clippings.
Cohen: I tried to keep up with what was happening, not during the war, but along after the war, as to what was going on while I was in Basic Training and also while…
Interviewer: Well that’s interesting.
Interviewer: A little scrapbook, so to speak.
Cohen: Yeah, sort of…
Interviewer: From ’44?
Cohen: Yeah from ’44 and it’s very interesting.
Interviewer: Did you have a particular area of interest as you would look at the papers? Was there something that you were following?
Cohen: The Bulge.
Interviewer: The Bulge?
Cohen: I was very interested in the Bulge.
Interviewer: The Battle of the Bulge?
Cohen: Only because my son-in-law’s father was with the 106th Infantry Division and that Division was overrun by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, the first few days of the Bulge, and he was captured and became a Prisoner of War.
Interviewer: But this would be after, I mean, you would have wondered this after. You’re not married during the war?
Interviewer: So you’ve studied, you’ve research the 106th?
Cohen: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Yeah they were two regiments wiped out.
Cohen: Two regiments, the 422nd and 423rd.
Interviewer: Which one was he in, one of those two?
Cohen: I think he was the 422nd.
Interviewer: Well it would be interesting as a continuation of our interviewer here, tell me about, okay, obviously you get married, you have my daughter’s father-in-law. What was his name?
Cohen: Saul Newman.
Interviewer: Saul Newman?
Cohen: Yeah, Saul.
Interviewer: Did he survive captivity?
Cohen: Yes he survived.
Cohen: Amazingly he survived.
Interviewer: Did you, I mean, during your…
Cohen: He wouldn’t talk about it.
Interviewer: Okay. I was going to ask did you have any time to…
Cohen: He wouldn’t…
discuss that with him?
Interviewer: Well how did you meet your wife then? You’re here at Ohio State. You’re sent down to Camp Campbell.
Interviewer: Kind of like, well that’s, your done with Columbus, right?
Cohen: Okay, that’s a story in itself.
Interviewer: All right, let’s hear that. That would be good.
Cohen: After I got discharged in June 29, 1946, I went back to Boston and my next question was what am I going to do next, go back to Boston College which I had started with way back in ’44, which had to accept me because I was a previous student there even though I had only been there one month, or come back, try to come back to Ohio State as a Civil Engineering student. I remembered when we were at Ohio State that one of our professors, Professor Oscar Marshall, blessed be he, had told us he liked our group of people and he said to us one day, “Any time any one of you want to come back to school here, send me a letter and let me know what you feel inside.” And I tried to get back to Ohio State without going through him and they were so filled up with returnees that they weren’t taking anybody other than previous students and they didn’t consider our group or any of our Army groups as previous students.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Cohen: Did not consider us.
Interviewer: How did that make you feel?
Cohen: Not too good. (laughter) Not too good but that was their rules at the time. They were desperate. If you recall or if you lived through that period, it was helter-skelter. They were building Quonset huts to try to provide for all of the…
Interviewer: The G.I. Bill…
Cohen: Yeah the G.I. Bill.
Interviewer: …came into, now you would have been eligible for the G.I. Bill?
Cohen: I was. Yeah I was eligible but not at Ohio State. And furthermore I was not an in-state student.
Interviewer: Let me ask you sort of a technical question here, were you actually sworn into the Army at some point?
Interviewer: Where did that occur, do you recall in this, ’cause you’re a college student and you say, “I’ll,” okay, “I’ll go to Amherst”. Did they swear you in at Amherst?
Cohen: They swore me in before Amherst?
Interviewer: Okay, yeah, okay.
Cohen: I became a Regular Army person. My Army number is a Regular Army number, 11133354.
Interviewer: So you’re sworn in? So now you’re eligible, G.I. Bill?
Interviewer: Does that carry any weight with Ohio State?
Cohen: No, none whatsoever because I wasn’t a previous student which they weren’t accepting and I was an out-of-state student which complicated the matter further. So in the end I wrote a letter to Professor Marshall saying, “You recall our little conversation?” He said, more or less, I don’t have a copy of his answer but he said, “I’ll see what I can do”. He turned it over to the Chairman of the Department, Professor Morris, Clyde T. Morris, and through pull, Dr. Morris got me in. It was pull. Another one of the strokes of luck that I had in my life was that I got back in not through my own free will but through the help of someone.
Interviewer: So you apparently had decided on a career with this Aeronautical Engineering?
Interviewer: Civil, yeah right, Civil.
Cohen: Only because, for one primary reason, I had already accumulated two years of college credit in the ASTP Program. So why throw it away?
Interviewer: So you were anxious to get your life underway then?
Interviewer: Would it be true then to say, “Well if you go back to Boston College, you’ve got all that Pre-Med?” You know at this time your age is at 20—, you’re in your early 20s.
Cohen: In 1946 I was 19.
Interviewer: 1946. Okay, yeah, that’s right. I forgot about that part of, okay.
Cohen: Yeah about 20, 19 or 20, yeah.
Interviewer: You’ve been accepted back and so you’re sort of pulling up stakes from Boston and…
Cohen: Came back here, came back to Columbus in January of 1947 and in May of 1947 I met my wife.
Interviewer: How did that happen?
Cohen: She happened to be a local girl. I met her at a place called Hillel Foundation up on The Ohio State campus on a Sunday afternoon. Met her by chance and we decided that we would go out to eat together and that’s how we met.
Interviewer: What’s her full maiden name?
Cohen: Phyllis Oppenheimer, O-P-P-E-N-H-E-I-M-E-R.
Interviewer: That was a well-known name in the 40s for some reason.
Interviewer: Why is that?
Cohen: Famous Robert Oppenheimer.
Cohen: In the Atomic Energy, but she’s no relation that she’s aware of.
Interviewer: So she was a student at Ohio State?
Cohen: She was a student and we met on campus and we dated and we got married in September of 1948.
Interviewer: A little background on your wife, while you’ve already mentioned that, oh no this was your son-in-law’s father.
Cohen: Yeah my son-in-law’s.
Interviewer: Okay that comes much later.
Cohen: Yeah much later.
Interviewer: Did Phyllis have any relations in the war, any…
Cohen: Yes. Her father was a combat veteran of World War I. He was wounded and gassed in World War I, received a Silver Star, Purple Heart, other decorations.
Interviewer: What was his first name?
Interviewer: Louis Oppenheimer?
Interviewer: So your children have that lineage to World War I also?
Cohen: World War I…
Cohen: And World War II and the Russian Army. If you want to look back there’s a lot of Army service.
Cohen: A lot of Army service, yeah, connected with our family in one way or another.
Interviewer: Okay. So how about beginning your career then, how did this transpire with your Ohio State studies and the, you met your gal?
Cohen: I prepared a application once for employment part-time…
Interviewer: You’ve got a resume document here huh?
Cohen: Which while not up to date tells you, tells you…
Interviewer: So you graduated with a Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering in 1949.
Cohen: I had an interesting career as a Structural Engineer.
Interviewer: I notice here that you’re a member of Masonic organizations?
Interviewer: I had heard in the past that they did not accept Jews.
Cohen: Well they did in the past. They did not in the past but they do now.
Interviewer: Oh okay.
Cohen: Yeah. They do now.
Interviewer: What year were you a member?
Cohen: 1978 I became a member of the Masonic body.
Interviewer: I should ask, during your time in training and all that, did you encounter any kind of discrimination, any sense of…
Cohen: Oh yes, oh a lot of it.
Interviewer: Is that true?
Cohen: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Even in ASTP?
Cohen: Even, when, not so much in ASTP as in the ranks in the…
Interviewer: Basic Training?
Cohen: Basic Training and…
Interviewer: Can you give us an example of what, anything comes to mind…
Cohen: Well nothing specific but you could sense it. You could sense that there was discrimination. Yeah you could just sense it and it was prevalent. Just like it was prevalent that blacks weren’t accepted in the Army during or at least weren’t…
Interviewer: Weren’t integrated into…
Cohen: …integrated in the Army during World War II and so forth. It was there and you knew it. Yeah.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: It’s like sex. You know it when you feel it, yeah.
Interviewer: Interesting. Well how did things go in the transition from college grad to employment?
Cohen: Good. It went good. I had a great career as a Structural Engineer.
Interviewer: How did you get that first job? How did it happen? Did you answer an ad in the paper?
Cohen: My first job was with American Bridge Company. They sent a representative to the school to interview people and I interviewed with them and they accepted me and I moved to Pittsburgh area.
Interviewer: That’s where this Ambridge is, Pittsburgh area?
Cohen: Yeah. Worked down there, a few bridge projects, the biggest project being the Delaware Memorial Bridge, if you’ve ever been over that at Wilmington, Delaware.
Interviewer: I believe so. Does that cross from Pennsylvania?
Cohen: Yeah. No, it’s from Delaware to New Jersey.
Interviewer: Delaware to New Jersey?
Cohen: Delaware to New Jersey.
Interviewer: Was this sort of a technical breakthrough at that time?
Cohen: Well no. They were building these suspension bridges and that was one of the longest in the world at that time. But it’s been surpassed many times since. So that was my main job that I worked on while I was there for the almost two years that I was there.
Interviewer: Then it looks like you came back to Columbus in 1950.
Cohen: Yep, yep.
Interviewer: J. T. Edwards. That seemed to be a well-known company.
Cohen: Yeah it was. Yeah I worked there. And basically that is about my career as a person.
Interviewer: When did you begin a family then?
Cohen: 1949, my first daughter was born November of ’49.
Interviewer: And her name?
Cohen: That is Diane.
Cohen: I had three daughters, Diane, Sandra and Beverly, 1949, 1953 and 1955. They’re each married and each have children, have seven grandchildren. I have two great grand- children, two grandchildren that are married out of the seven.
Interviewer: Well that is quite a sizeable family tree?
Cohen: Uh huh.
Interviewer: You probably took an interest in your son-in-law’s father, Saul Newman. Was he from Columbus?
Cohen: No he was from New York area.
Interviewer: New York area. Was in the group captured, the 107th?
Cohen: The 106th.
Interviewer: 106th Division. How did you come to know about that, I guess just in meeting with the family?
Cohen: I think he told me.
Interviewer: He mentioned that?
Cohen: But he wouldn’t talk about it.
Interviewer: Would not talk?
Cohen: No. Refused to talk about it.
Interviewer: Well we know that anyone Jewish captured by the Germans had a rough time.
Cohen: Very rough.
Interviewer: And in fact some of those were isolated from the rest of the 106th and were sent to special camps for Jews.
Cohen: They were.
Interviewer: And were worked in salt mines and died of this kind of…
Cohen: Many died.
Interviewer: compelled, compulsory work.
Cohen: Many died.
Interviewer: Was not the treatment of a POW and yet those men were our own GIs.
Cohen: Our own, yes. Mistreated by, fully aware of, yep.
Interviewer: Which of your daughters, okay, is married to his son…
Interviewer: …his son, Diane?
Cohen: The oldest.
Interviewer: Okay. Just wanted to include that as another perspective on your family there. Those were horrible events to those Jewish soldiers of ours. Anything extraordinary in your Columbus experience, I don’t know, anything particular that let’s say for example, your background training in the Army? You were trained as a soldier, you then become more of a professional. How did that affect you in later years? Did you become an affectionado of weaponry of any kind or anything like that?
Cohen: No, no but I became more interested in music after serving in the Army as a musician. I have played in the Shrine Band for the past 22 years as a musician in the Shrine Band.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Cohen: That’s my hobby you might say. Still play the baritone horn to this day and that keeps me busy once a week.
Interviewer: Isn’t that neat?
Cohen: Yeah once a week.
Interviewer: How about on the military side? Did you ever go back to Fort Campbell and…
Interviewer: How about your Basic Training camp, what was that, Wheeler?
Interviewer: What was that Georgia or where was Wheeler?
Cohen: Yeah Camp Wheeler Georgia, outside of Macon and I don’t…
Interviewer: No ties with that?
Cohen: …know if that exists any more.
Interviewer: Is that any association for the ASTP, any kind of a veterans’ membership?
Cohen: No, no. There may be but I’m not aware of it. I recall someone some years ago writing to me about wanting to write a book about the ASTP.
Cohen: I don’t know whatever became of that.
Interviewer: Well I’ve seen some articles in publications from Ohio State, maybe a magazine where they did an article about ASTP.
Cohen: Yes they did.
Interviewer: Yeah I’m familiar with that.
Cohen: I thought I had a copy…
Interviewer: So it seems like your military veterans’ organization association wherever would be to the 5th Infantry.
Interviewer: Are you a member of that veterans’ group?
Cohen: No I never joined that although I could have.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Cohen: Yeah, I never did.
Interviewer: Did you join, I know you’re a member of the Jewish War Veterans?
Interviewer: How about the American Legion?
Cohen: No, no. The only one I’m a member of is the Jewish War Veterans.
Interviewer: Uh huh, okay. Have you ever gone back to Europe and walked…
Interviewer: any battlefields…
Interviewer: of those people that you had around…
Cohen: Yes I have. I just wanted to show you…
Interviewer: That’s the OSU, Ohio State, yeah. I’ve seen this, yeah.
Cohen: You’ve seen that article?
Interviewer: I may have one of them in magazines, yeah. This was an article published in August, 1994 about the ASTP Program at Ohio State by Lewis Keefer. Excellent.
Cohen: Keefer, Lewis Keefer.
Interviewer: Excellent background. It’s described. You even have your own shoulder patch…
Interviewer: which was really special. Did you keep any of that memorabilia?
Cohen: No I didn’t keep anything. Yeah.
Interviewer: Is this pretty much the way it was described in this?
Cohen: Yeah that’s exactly the way it was, yeah. That and the…
Interviewer: Wonderful photographs.
Cohen: …photographs, yeah.
Interviewer: Photographs. I’m going to scan for your file here.
Cohen: Now you talk about battlefields. I have been, I’m very interested in war history, particularly World War II and the Battle of the Bulge. I’ve been to Normandy to the big cemetery at Normandy. I’ve also been to the cemetery outside of Luxembourg City with…
Interviewer: Hamm Cemetery with Patton.
Cohen: the city where George Patton . . . . was buried, yeah.
Interviewer: You came very close to being part of that…
Cohen: Within an eyelash of it.
Interviewer: It’s remarkable.
Cohen: Yeah within an eyelash.
Interviewer: Have you gone back to your old neighborhood of Roxbury and kind of reconnected with anyone?
Cohen: It, as a neighborhood, as a Jewish neighborhood, it doesn’t exist any more.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Cohen: Jewish people have all moved away from there. However the area formed an organi-zation called the DRM, Dorchester-Roxbury-Mattapan Association of which I’m a member of and have been for many years.
Interviewer: The DRM Association?
Cohen: Association. And it’s made up of people who lived in the area at one time and we have a, they get together, I have never been to any of their affairs but they get together several times a year, parties, dances and dinners and whatnot and they turn out a brochure. I wish I had brought you a copy of it.
Interviewer: Yeah I think that’d be quite interesting to reflect more on your experience, once again, a life that’s gone, a neighborhood…
Cohen: A neighborhood that’s disappeared.
Interviewer: that is no more but it was such a special part of America.
Cohen: Very special. I can remember to this day, yeah.
Interviewer: That’d be, I think that’d be a nice item for the files and maybe some archivist, some student, who might later on want to contact the DRM and see what material they have about this Jewish neighborhood of those times. I wonder how old is that, was that neighborhood in your time. Was it long-established even in the 30s or?
Cohen: It started after World War I.
Interviewer: Oh okay.
Cohen: After World, from 1918 to 1960, it was primarily Jewish, low income Jewish.
Interviewer: I think that’s interesting.
Cohen: And then it began to disappear as the people moved out to the suburbs like they have here in Columbus, a lot of people that moved out into the suburbs, yeah.
Interviewer: Well I think that’s quite an interesting part of your background is that particular community that you had quite a time with, experience. I think it lends a richness to your background for sure. How about here in Columbus? You’ve lived all your time in the Bexley area?
Cohen: Yes. After the two years in Pittsburgh we came back to Columbus. We’ve lived in the east end, James Road.
Interviewer: Was Phyllis, your wife, a long-time resident of this part of town or?
Interviewer: Uh huh. Born in Columbus?
Cohen: Born and raised in Columbus, as was her mother.
Interviewer: Oh so we’re going back quite a ways here in Columbus history here. Okay. Well I’m…you gave me a copy of your resume. Would this be for the archives?
Cohen: Uh huh. Okay.
Interviewer: Forty-two years, 42 years experience in Civil and Structural Engineering. That’s quite a…
Cohen: That was…when that was written.
Interviewer: Quite a nice career.
Cohen: Uh huh, yeah.
Interviewer: Did you, this is dated 1992. Did you obtain, did you do more work in this career path?
Cohen: I did a little bit of consulting work for a few years thereafter.
Interviewer: After 1992?
Cohen: Yeah for a few years. I, consulting for different people. But then I gave it up.
Interviewer: Don’t mean to bounce around too much here in our interviewer but topics come to mind that are typical for the wartime experience, do you remember the day Franklin Roosevelt died?
Cohen: Yes I do.
Interviewer: You would have been at school?
Cohen: Yeah I do remember.
Interviewer: How did that go with you?
Cohen: It just stunned us, yeah it stunned us, yeah. It was stunning.
Interviewer: How about were you, did you follow politics much at?
Cohen: Not at that time, no.
Interviewer: How about the atom bomb and the dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Cohen: The same thing. We were in school of course. We were mostly engrossed in studies so we didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, but I recall reading about it and so forth.
Interviewer: Well it seems like that Battle of the Bulge had the greatest impact on your…
Cohen: It did, it did.
Interviewer: on your life there.
Cohen: Yeah maybe because I came within an eyelash of being there as happened to my son-in-law’s father. Just by fate he happened to be there and they were in the area five days before it happened. So it was so new to them that they were stunned. You talk about being stunned by the sudden eruption of fighting, yeah.
Interviewer: That’s right, yeah.
Interviewer: And you very well could have been called into the aftermath?
Cohen: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: I’m sure I asked about that but any, you trained for, what you say, 17 weeks of Basic Training?
Cohen: Seventeen weeks, yes.
Interviewer: Any of your buddies that did get thrown into that that you might recall or…
Cohen: I don’t have any record of it.
Cohen: I’m sure there were . . . .
Interviewer: Those guys just went their way.
Cohen: I’m sure they were. They were just distributed all over, Infantry replacements. They were just assigned to replacement depots one-by-one. If you read history, you know that in some cases they were thrown into the lines and their comrades didn’t even know who they were.
Interviewer: That’s right.
Interviewer: So that during your Basic Training you didn’t have a close connection to another boy from Boston or New England or anybody that…
Cohen: They came from all over.
Interviewer: you wanted to follow up?
Cohen: All over. Yeah, all over, yeah.
Interviewer: That was a kind of remarkable turning of events in the late…I was interested in your perspective that, I like the way you put that, the army was euphoric during that late summer/fall of ’44. And you could see that during your training, that these guys are thinking that the War is over.
Cohen: Yeah, uh huh. And especially in reading history after the War, I get that sense as well that everybody, right up to Eisenhower himself were euphoric about the situation before the day of the Battle of the Bulge. They thought things were just going to end soon, yeah.
Interviewer: What a spot.
Cohen: It was, it was a total shock, yeah.
Interviewer: Well do you have any other comments that you think we ought to make sure we record or?
Cohen: I just wanted to show you a document that I had picked up from the internet when the ASTP was terminated at the beginning, the first termination.
Interviewer: Oh the first termination. This is when they sort of took all the boys at that time from Ohio State…
Cohen: No, no that was long before that.
Interviewer: Long before that, yeah.
Cohen: Long before that.
Interviewer: In February of ’44, all trainees of the ASTP, in this case South Carolina, at Clemson.
Cohen: Yeah Clemson.
Interviewer: This is the letter announcing…
Cohen: How cold and brutal it was. They just yanked them out and that by stroke of luck I had the good fortune of getting back in.
Interviewer: Okay. I’ll take a look at that. Okay well I think we’ll record this as the end of our interview here. And we’ll stop the recording at this point.
End of interview
* * *
Transcribed by Honey Abramson
Proofread by Marvin Bonowitz
Corrected by Joe Cohen