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First Person > David Cohen

David Cohen - 1944-1945: World War II

From D-Day to V-E Day, the Allied Forces sweep across Europe



David Cohen served as a radio operator in the 4th Armored Division of Patton's Third Army during the Second World War...

Learn more about David Cohen: View a timeline of his life and listen to his full interview.

Stories by this speaker



file:/activities/oralhistory/cappics/cohen1944_landing, alt: American soldiers landing onto the coast of Normandy

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Allied Troops are photographed landing off the Normandy Coast on D-Day.

David Cohen landed in France, as part of the 4th Armored Division, in mid-July of 1944. Their job was, in part, to relieve the 4th Infantry Division which had been fighting in France since the beginning of the Allied Invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. David explains the reason for the delay: "we had to wait until there was enough [room because an]…armored division has to have a lot of land to move, you know, because of the tanks and vehicles, and on D-36…we went into combat right away."

"Into the Jaws of Death - U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire", ca. 06/06/1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Public Domain.

file:/activities/oralhistory/cappics/cohen1944_radio, alt: soldier operating a signal corps radio

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A Signal Corp Radio being operated by Private Beverly in August, 1941.

David Cohen was a radio operator for the 4th Armored Division of General Patton’s Third Army. As there were not yet radios to operate on his first night in France, David was put on guard duty. During the night the fog of war engulfed him. David remembers, "I'll never forget how scared I was. The front…you hear all the cannons going, and machine gun fire. You know, you're…it's the baptism of fire, you might say. You're scared. And I told him [his commanding officer], [if] my own grandmother was walking by, I woulda shot her. I would…you're so scared, you know. But you get used to the sound after a while."

"Private Beverly is seen operating Signal Corps Radio on bivouac area," August 14, 1941, Collection of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Public Domain.

file:/activities/oralhistory/cappics/cohen1944_map, alt: map of western Europe showing the line of the German army being pushed east

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This map, entitled "Erasing the Bulge" illustrates the metamorphosis of the front line in late December of 1944 and January of 1945

David remembers, "the weather was so bad" in the winter of 1944/45. He recalls, "it was very cloudy and snowy, awful cold." The Ardennes Offensive, or the Battle of the Bulge, began and ended in that winter, and was one of the final major European battles of World War II. It took place in the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg and was the largest land battle in which the United States military participated during the War. The battle began on December 16, 1944. Having, within days, advanced 65 miles into the Allied (British and American) line, the German army was seemingly on its way to successfully splitting the Allied forces in two. The German advances, however, were short lived. Soon, Allied forces originating from the north and south had surrounded the large "bulge" which the surging German forces had created. The Battle of the Bulge ended on January 25, 1945.

General George S. Patton’s Third Army, situated to the south of the Ardennes region, was instrumental in this Allied success. Of vital importance to the Third Amy was the 4th Armored Division. It was nicknamed the "Breakthrough Division" and was known as the spearhead of the Third Army. Late in the night on December 18th, 1944, David and the rest of the 4th Armored Division were given the orders to march northwest into Belgium to attack the Germans at Bastogne. It took them only 19 hours to make the 151 mile march. As Brigadier General Albin F. Irzyk, U.S. Army (ret.) remembers, "Just before dark on the day after Christmas 1944, elements of Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr.’s 4th Armored Division, attacking from the south, succeeded in making contact with the beleaguered Americans at Bastogne. The encircled 101st Airborne Division had occupied that critically vital Belgian town for several days, categorically refusing German demands for surrender."1 As a result of its "extraordinary tactical accomplishment" during and after the Ardennes Offensive, the 4th was the first Armored Division to be awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.

United States Army, "Erasing the Bulge--The Allied counterattack, 26 December-25 January" Printed by the US Government printing office, Public domain.

1Brig. Gen. Albin F. Irzyk, U.S. Army (ret.), Firsthand Account 4th Armored Division Spearhead at Bastogne, http://www.historynet.com/firsthand-account-4th-armored-division-spearhead-at-bastogne-november-99-world-war-ii-feature.htm retrieved June 5, 2009.

file:/activities/oralhistory/cappics/cohen1944_tank, alt: Tank and American soldiers charging down a street of Wernberg, Germany

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Patton’s Third Army charges through the streets of Wernberg, Germany on April 22, 1945.

From D-Day to V-E Day (Victory in Europe day) the Third Army played a seminal role in the Allied offensive. General George S. Patton, Jr. summed up the accomplishment of his army in the last general orders that he sent to his troops on May 9, 1945. He wrote to the "Soldiers of the Third Army, past and present,"

During the 281 days of incessant and victorious combat, your penetrations have advanced farther in less time than any other army in history. You have fought your way across 24 major rivers and innumerable lesser streams. You have liberated or conquered more than 82,000 square miles of territory, including 1,500 cities and towns, and some 12,000 inhabited places. Prior to the termination of active hostilities, you had captured in battle 956,000 enemy soldiers and killed or wounded at least 500,000 others. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia bear witness to your exploits… During the course of this war I have received promotions and decorations far above and beyond my individual merit. You won them; I as your representative wear them. The one honor which is mine and mine alone is that of having commanded such an incomparable group of Americans, the record of whose fortitude, audacity, and valor will endure as long as history lasts.2

"U.S. Third Army runs through smoke filled streets in Wernberg", ca. 04/22/1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Public Domain.

2General George S. Patton, Jr, "SOLDIERS OF THE THIRD ARMY, PAST AND PRESENT," General Orders Number 98, May 9, 1945.http://www.pattonhq.com/textfiles/thirdhst.html retrieved May 4, 2009.

Story Clip #1:

David becomes part of Patton's Third Army

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Audio also available in MP3 format

We went overseas. And we landed in Wales and settled in a place called Wilshire Coun...uh...Wilshire Township in England, near Bath, Bristol Bath area. And we trained there, and we were put into Patton's Third Army. Now I can't repeat some of the things he said. He...he spoke to our division.

Q: You can say anything.

I would never repeat it, not to you. I would tell him [gestures toward his assistant].

Q: You can tell him and I won't listen.

No.

Q: Okay.

He called everybody a son-of-a-bitch and a bastard. [garbled] But that's mild compared to what he said.

But anyway, we didn't go to France until D-36.

Q: What is D-36?

D-Day was June the 6th and we landed July...uh...when was...13th is, uh, Bastille Day. That's when we landed in France, Bastille Day. We had to wait until there was enough...see, armored division has to have a lot of land to move, you know, because of the tanks and vehicles, and on D-36...and then we went into combat right away. We relieved the 4th Infantry Division and then we were in the Hedgerows, and that was a rather unpleasant place.

Story Clip #2:

The Fog of War

Audio also available in MP3 format

The first night we were there, there was radio silence. In other words, the radios weren't operating yet. So our first sergeant said, All you SOBs, you're gonna do guard duty, 'cause we never did KP or guard duty. Radio operators were supposed to be on all day. And I told him, we...I went out in the field on guard duty, and I'll never forget how scared I was. The front...you hear all the cannons going, and machine gun fire. You know, you're...it's the baptism of fire, you might say. You're scared. And I told him, [if] my own grandmother was walking by, I woulda shot her. I would...you're so scared, you know. But you get used to the sound after a while, like you get used to being married. You get used to combat.

Story Clip #3:

The 4th Armored Division charges through France and meets up with Axis Sally

Audio also available in MP3 format

...we went...covered a lot of territory. We went through France, and we were in Patton's Third Army and he...he uh, liked our division because he knew our General. And we had the Colonel, by the way, that came from Agawam, Massachusetts. His name was Abrams, Creighton W. Abrams.

Q: What was his first name?

Creighton. The Germans thought he was Jewish, you know, with a name like Abrams. In fact, when we were on maneuvers, I asked him one day, I says, you know...he was a captain, and I said, I thought you were one of our boys. He says, he thinks there was a little Jew boy hanging around somewhere in England. That's how...they were...he was from England, his family. But anyway, he was a great officer. He became a General, Chief of Staff, four-star General. He was a marvelous person, besides being a good Gen...uh, officer. But anyway, through Fr...we went through France, and we were around the Metz area, around Nancy and Villers. That's the eastern part of France. We got word...

Q: Did you say the Metz area?

Yeah, Metz. M-E-T-Z.

Q: Okay. I just want to make sure I have it correct for our record.

And they said we had to go up towards Belgium. We didn't know what was going on yet. And we had to...I was telling him...we had to take off all our patches, you know, with insignias, and paint all the...the letters off our vehicles, that said, like, headquarters, you know, seven...704th tank destroyer or whatever outfit it was. Had to paint...we had to put white paint. I was trying to think of what you call it. But anyway, we had to paint everything, and we had to go up towards Belgium. And it was radio silence, so when it was radio silence, we turned in good music. It was either the BBC or Axis Sally, the German. And we put Axis Sally on, I remember. She played real good jazz and music we enjoyed. And then she gets on and she says, you know, 4th Armored Division, we know where you are. You're near Longueville, Belgium. And that was where we were. There was a Longwy, France, and a Longueville, Belgium. We were right there. Now how...I guess they must've had people, you know, some of the farmers would, uh, were working for the German army. So, uh, we got uh...nothing happened, except...

Q: What did that feel like when you heard that over the radio?

Well, we laughed. It was a joke to us, that we were 'sposed to erase all our identification.

Story Clip #4:

Christmas 1944 and the Battle of the Bulge

Audio also available in MP3 format

But anyway, it was very cloudy and snowy, awful cold. And uh, the German planes came out, but the American planes didn't. The weather was so bad. But, Christmas day, you know, the Christian guys said we prayed Chris...the sun came out. And the American planes came out to uh, escort us, you know.

Q: Was that 1943?

It was forty...let's see, let's see...'44. It was just the end of '43 and the beginning of '44. It was uh, New Years. We were in Belgium for New Years in '43. And it was cold and snowy. We went up, and it was...it was pretty rough up in Belgium. The weather and, you know, all the circumstances. But from there, we went to our first rest period in January, in Luxembourg. We were there, oh, for weeks. And I was telling Rob the nice people I met in, in Luxembourg. We were in a little town called Esch Alzette [Esch-sur-Alzette]. That means, on the Alzette River. And then from there we went...in Bitburg, we kicked off into Germany. And we went through Germany rather rapidly.



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