"I don't want anyone to ever forget our veterans," Cohen said. "They are our heroes."Her first contribution to the war effort involved trapping black widow spiders and sending them to USC, which had a program collecting the strong webs for use as cross-hairs in submarine periscopes.
Cohen enrolled in a class to learn about riveting and later went to work at Douglas Aircraft Co. in Los Angeles, producing munitions and war supplies.
"She became a real-life Rosie the Riveter," Bonfilio said, referring to the icon that represents the thousands of female factory workers who contributed to the war effort.Cohen enlisted in the U.S. Army and as a private first class was sent to England. Her duties included working in the communications department with top-secret mimeographed documents — and kitchen patrol.
She returned to Los Angeles in 1945, where she met her husband, Ray Cohen, a Marine gunnery sergeant who had been imprisoned on Corregidor Island in the Philippines for more than three years. Less than three months after meeting, the couple married. In 1950 they bought a house in Westchester — where Bea Cohen still resides — and raised two daughters there.
She became involved with a local group for former prisoners of war, as did her husband, who died in 2003. She joined the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary and became its chairwoman for child welfare. She made lap blankets for veterans and was involved with the United Cerebral Palsy/Spastic Children's Foundation for 35 years, taking the kids on trips to Disneyland.
While volunteering at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, she met Chief Master Sgt. Jason Young, who served 28 years in the Air Force and had just returned from Vietnam. He helped Cohen secure resources for the children's trips and build a small park for them.
Cohen's vivacity was contagious.
"Here I am returning from Vietnam.... I had issues, emotional issues," said Young, 68, whom Cohen admiringly calls "Chief." "I kept to myself. When I saw this woman doing what she was doing, caring for others, it kind of got me out of my shell. She helped me to be better able to be around people, to function."The two remain fast friends and Young typically escorts Cohen to events.
Cohen became legally blind in 1990, but that didn't slow her down. She continues to do upholstery, one of her favorite pastimes and a skill she would like to teach fellow veterans.
The centenarian's dream is to meet First Lady Michelle Obama to thank her "for helping to support our veterans."
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