State’s old­est fe­male vet­eran

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - BE A CO H E N, 1910 - 2 015 By Ann M. Sim­mons ann.sim­mons@la­times.com

Bea Abrams Co­hen, who served dur­ing World War II and spent decades help­ing vets, dies at 106.

For Bea Abrams Co­hen, life was all about “mitz­vah,” the Jewish tra­di­tion of do­ing a good deed.

Be­lieved to be Cal­i­for­nia’s old­est fe­male vet­eran, Co­hen served her coun­try dur­ing World War II, spent more than 70 years sup­port­ing U.S. mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tions and char­i­ties and clocked thou­sands of hours vol­un­teer­ing for causes that helped bring com­fort and joy to for­mer ser­vice per­son­nel.

“Pay back. It works.” That was Co­hen’s life phi­los­o­phy.

Co­hen died May 31 of con­ges­tive heart fail­ure at an as­sisted living fa­cil­ity in Los An­ge­les, ac­cord­ing to her daugh­ter Janiece Co­hen. She was 105.

“She wasn’t ready,” Janiece, 68, said of her mother. “She al­ways said there was still more to do. Mother just al­ways felt that she wanted to help other peo­ple. It made her feel good.”

Co­hen was a tire­less cham­pion of vet­er­ans who plunged her­self into causes to make sure they were well taken care of and not forgotten, said Lind­sey Sin, deputy direc­tor for Women Vet­er­ans Af­fairs at the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

“She was an in­valu­able point of light for women vet­er­ans, and men,” Sin said. “She con­tin­ued to give back over and over again.”

A long­time res­i­dent of Los An­ge­les’ Westch­ester neigh­bor­hood, Co­hen was born Bea Hir­shkovici in Bucharest, Ro­ma­nia, on Feb. 3, 1910. She had two older sib­lings. Her fa­ther died when she was 3, and her mother even­tu­ally mar­ried a Ro­ma­nian wid­ower and fa­ther of nine chil­dren who lived in Fort Worth. He sent for the Hir­shkovi­cis, who ar­rived in Amer­ica in 1920. Co­hen took her step­fa­ther’s name and be­came Bea Abrams. In 1929, the fam­ily moved to Los An­ge­les.

Co­hen, deeply grate­ful that Amer­ica wel­comed her fam­ily, wanted to find a way to show her grat­i­tude. So she joined the U.S. war ef­fort.

“I wanted to pay back for be­ing an Amer­i­can,” Co­hen told The Times in a 2012 in­ter­view.

Her ini­tial role in­volved trap­ping black widow spi­ders and send­ing them to USC, which col­lected the strong webs for use as crosshairs in sub­ma­rine periscopes. She later stud­ied riv­et­ing, which led to work at Dou­glas Air­craft Co. in Los An­ge­les, pro­duc­ing mu­ni­tions and war sup­plies.

Af­ter en­list­ing in the U.S. Army, the pri­vate 1st class was sent to Eng­land, where her du­ties in­cluded work­ing in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ment with top-se­cret mimeo­graphed doc­u­ments — and kitchen pa­trol.

The fact that Co­hen was orig­i­nally from Ro­ma­nia and chose to join the U.S. mil­i­tary un­der­scored the depth of her pa­tri­o­tism, Sin said.

In 1945 she re­turned to Los An­ge­les, where she met and mar­ried Ray Co­hen, a Marine gun­nery sergeant and for­mer prisoner of war in China and Ja­pan.

Janiece Co­hen ac­knowl­edged that her mother’s home life was not al­ways easy. Her hus­band suf­fered from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and was an in­tro­vert com­pared to the outgo- ing Co­hen. She threw her­self into ac­tiv­i­ties out­side the home, par­tic­u­larly vol­un­teerism.

Co­hen got in­volved with a lo­cal sup­port group for for­mer pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing her hus­band, who died in 2003. She made lap blan­kets and wheel­chair bags for vet­er­ans and col­lected thou­sands of pairs of do­nated socks for them. She be­came chair­woman for child wel­fare for the Jewish War Vet­er­ans Aux­il­iary and worked for 35 years with the United Cere­bral Palsy/Spas­tic Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion, tak­ing the kids on trips to Dis­ney­land.

Chief Mas­ter Sgt. Ja­son Young, a Viet­nam vet­eran who served 28 years in the Air Force, helped Co­hen se­cure re­sources for the chil­dren’s trips. The pair met in 1970 while Co­hen was vol­un­teer­ing at the Los An­ge­les Air Force Base in El Se­gundo, and they be­came fast friends.

The strap­ping African Amer­i­can would es­cort the diminu­tive Co­hen, who stood less than 5 feet tall, to speak­ing en­gage­ments, meet­ings and other func­tions, which she con­tin­ued to at­tend even af­ter be­ing di- ag­nosed as legally blind in 1990.

“She set the bar very high in terms of her per­sonal con­tri­bu­tions to as­sist­ing oth­ers, es­pe­cially vet­er­ans,” said Young, 71. “She was ob­sessed with the need, the sta­tus and the predica­ment of vet­er­ans.”

Co­hen also had a per­sonal ef­fect on Young, who said he was so­cially aloof af­ter re­turn­ing from Viet­nam.

“Just be­ing around her was mo­ti­va­tional for me, deal­ing with some of the is­sues I had,” Young said.

Co­hen’s dream was to meet First Lady Michelle Obama to thank her “for help­ing to sup­port our vet­er­ans.” For­mer Cal­i­for­nia Assem­bly­woman Betsy But­ler, a cham­pion of vet­er­ans’ and se­niors’ is­sues, said she helped that dream come true — twice.

“She was un­for­get­table,” But­ler said of Co­hen, not­ing that at one meet­ing — an event hon­or­ing vet­er­ans — Co­hen man­aged to re­ceive three hugs from the first lady. “She was so grate­ful to be in the U.S., to have lived her life in this coun­try,” But­ler said.

Be­sides Janiece, Co­hen is sur­vived by an­other daugh­ter, Su­san Co­hen, 67.

Pho­tog raphs by Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

TIRE­LESS CHAM­PION Bea Co­hen speaks with Marine vet­eran Larry Foster at the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs in North

Hills in 2012. Co­hen spent more than 70 years sup­port­ing U.S. mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tions and char­i­ties.

VET­ERAN A por­trait of U.S. Army Pfc. Bea Abrams Co­hen

in 1945.

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