Sergeant Herman Cohen (1918–1944)

Herman Cohen as a private 1st class (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareStock clerk or assistant manager at Neisner Brothers
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32068207
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “C,” 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge (presumed)Normandy

Early Life & Family

Herman Cohen was born at 619 West 2nd Street in Wilmington, Delaware, on the evening of September 20, 1918. He was the eldest child of Samuel Cohen (a grocer, 1897 or 1898–1950) and Annie Cohen (née Caney, 1899–1976). His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia (present-day Belarus) who settled in Wilmington and eventually became U.S. citizens. Cohen had three younger sisters.

The Cohen family was apparently living at 103 West Front Street in Wilmington when Herman was born. The family was recorded on the census on January 26, 1920, living at 1508 West 3rd Street in Wilmington. The family was still living there when recorded on the next census on April 4, 1930.

The Cohens were living at 1405 West 6th Street in Wilmington by April 9, 1940. Cohen attended Wilmington High School, but he did not graduate. Both census records and Cohen’s enlistment data card state that he completed three years of high school. A July 31, 1944, article in Journal-Every Evening stated that Cohen was a member of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and Sigma Alpha Rho, a Jewish high school fraternity.

When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, Cohen was working for Neisner Brothers department store at 604 Market Street. Cohen was listed as working at the stockroom there on the 1940 census. That is consistent with his enlistment data card, which listed his occupation as stock clerk. On the other hand, in a statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Cohen’s sister, Beatrice Cohen (later Grossman, 1922–1998), wrote that her brother was an assistant manager for that company prior to entering the military. The registrar described Cohen as standing about five feet, seven inches tall and weighing 140 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes. That he was missing “part of index finger on left hand” did not preclude military service.


Military Career

Cohen was drafted before the U.S. entered World War II. He was inducted into the U.S. Army in Trenton, New Jersey, on February 20, 1941. According to a statement by Beatrice Cohen, he was briefly stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, before he was assigned to Company “C,” 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. She wrote that Cohen was promoted to private 1st class on August 1, 1941. According to Shelby L. Stanton’s summary of the unit, the 22nd Infantry moved to Camp Gordon, Georgia in December 1941, to Fort Dix in April 1943, to Camp Gordon Johnson, Florida, in September 1943, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina in December 1943. The 4th Infantry Division participated in maneuvers several times while stationed in South Carolina and Florida.

Cohen, probably during his training stateside (Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware)
Probably taken at the same time as the previous photo, this picture is dated April 23, 1943, placing the probable location as Fort Dix, New Jersey (Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware)

Cohen’s sister stated that he went overseas in January 1944. Indeed, Stanton wrote that the 22nd Infantry Regiment arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, staging area for the New York Port of Embarkation (N.Y.P.O.E.), on January 8, 1944, and shipped out ten days later. The regiment arrived in England on January 29, 1944.

The 22nd Infantry Regiment landed at Utah Beach on D-Day in Normandy, June 6, 1944.

John C. McManus wrote in his book, The Americans at Normandy:

The [4th Infantry D]ivision’s 22nd Infantry Regiment, on the eastern flank, had the job of fighting its way up the coast. On June 7 and 8, the soldiers of this regiment attacked north, attempting to capture the German headland fortresses of Azeville and Crisbecq. These positions were a veritable maze of death. Each position contained a row of four massive concrete blockhouses. The blockhouses were supplied with underground ammunition storage dumps. Communications trenches connected the blockhouses with one another. The Azeville blockhouses contained four 150mm guns; Crisbecq had three 210mm monsters. Barbed wire and mines protected the approaches to the blockhouses, but that wasn’t all. “An arc of concrete sniper pillboxes out-posted the southern approaches to Azeville,” the official history recorded. “Crisbecq … occupied a … commanding position on the headland overlooking the beaches.”

On D-Day, Crisbeque had dueled with American battleships and cruisers offshore and sank the destroyer U.S.S. Corry (DD-463). On June 7, 1944, Cohen’s Company “C” led 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment in the attack on Crisbecq. McManus wrote that “The battalion’s C Company was in the lead. This company was organized into special assault sections, similar to the boat teams used to storm the beach the day before. Each man had his own special job” in the assault, including some soldiers equipped with flamethrowers and others with explosives. Furious German fire pinned them down and a counterattack that afternoon drove 1st Battalion back. They weathered another counterattack that night.

One of the guns at Crisbecq photographed after its capture (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo, National Archives)

McManus wrote that the following day, June 8, 1944, 1st Battalion resumed their attack,

this time under cover of a powerful blanket of naval, mortar, and artillery fire that bombarded the blockhouses of Crisbecq. This gave way to a rolling barrage 200 yards ahead of the infantry. Once again, C Company was the main assault group. As the two other rifle companies covered their flanks, the C Company troops pressed forward. Using pole charges, they blew up several pillboxes, but not the main blockhouses containing the 210mm guns. Soon they ran out of explosives and found themselves involved in a close-quarters fight with German soldiers in the trench system that zigzagged through Crisbecq. Screaming meemies [Nebelwerfer rockets] poured in. The shrill shriek they made as they were fired tested the resolve of even the bravest Americans. As had happened the previous day, the Germans counterattacked from the left. Finally, the 1st Battalion men could take no more. They retreated, as fast as their legs could carry them. The unit was badly disorganized. All night long, stragglers filtered back to the American lines. Crisbecq remained under German control.

The regimental after action report stated that on June 9, 1944, “The decision was made to contain the enemy at Crisbecq with ‘C’ Company” while the rest of the regiment moved on Azeville. Unable to resist any longer, the remainder of the German garrison slipped out of Crisbecq on June 11, 1944, and the battery fell into American hands the following day. Tough fighting continued as the 4th Infantry Division, along with the rest of the U.S. VII Corps, moved west and north to secure the Cotentin Peninsula and the major port of Cherbourg.

Cohen in his tent (Courtesy of the Grossman family)

A July 31, 1944, article in Journal-Every Evening reported that Cohen “with a friend, had helped to capture a Nazi headquarters with 10 prisoners during the early fighting in Normandy.” A William P. Frank column printed in that same paper the following day quoted one of Cohen’s letters from Normandy at length.

“How do you like this stationery?” Cohen asked. “I got it from a room a German officer used to occupy. He sure left in a hurry. You should see the stuff he left behind.”

Cohen also commented:

“I think the people back home who have given blood to the Red Cross for blood plasma ought to know what a wonderful thing they’ve done. I’ve seen blood plasma given to badly wounded soldiers and had their lives saved by it.

“I regret now I didn’t give some blood while I was still back in the States.”

He included a lighthearted anecdote:

“Whenever we have a chance we hunt up some cow and milk it. Since I’m from the city and the milk I had came in bottles, it is my job to catch the cow and hold her while some one else milks her. I should be able to milk one myself soon. Looks easy!”

One passage in Cohen’s letter was incredibly blunt:

“War is an awful miserable thing. I wish it had never started. Even as I write this letter in a fox hole, shells and bullets are whizzing all around.

“Some of the shells are falling pretty close. If I ever come home, I’ll never want to talk about some of the things I’ve seen or done.”

During the Normandy campaign, Cohen was promoted to sergeant on June 24, 1944, according to his sister’s statement. Based on his grade and the tables of organization and equipment, he would most likely have been an assistant squad leader in a rifle squad, though he may also have been a machine gun or mortar squad leader.

Cherbourg fell on June 25, 1944, though mopping up the area took about another week. The 4th Infantry Division then advanced south toward Périers on July 6, 1944.

In his book United States Army in World War II European Theater of Operations: Breakout and Pursuit, Martin Blumenson wrote:

From a one-division limited objective attack, the VII Corps effort had become a two-division attack in the Carentan-Périers isthmus. By 8 July the 83d and 4th Divisions had made such small gains, despite strenuous action, that there was still no space to employ the available 9th Division. The narrow zone of operations and the terrain had inhibited maneuver. Numerous streams and marshes and the hedgerows had broken large-scale attacks into small, local engagements. A resourceful enemy—the 6th Parachute Regiment, more and more units of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, and artillery and tank elements of the 2d SS Panzer Division —had felled trees to block the roads, used roaming tanks in mobile defense, and covered crossroads with devastating fire. Though depleted and battered by superior numbers, the Germans had shuffled their units skillfully and continued to make expert use of the terrain. They had revealed no signs of cracking suddenly under the weight of the corps attack.

Blumenson continued:

On the right (western) half of the Carentan-Périers isthmus, General Barton was finally able on 8 July to bring all three regiments of his 4th Division into the sector available to him, but only the 22d Infantry (Col. Charles T. Lanham) was directed toward Périers. Deployed on the narrowest portion of the isthmus, squeezed by the Prairies Marécageuses de Gorges on the right, the regiment was on the verge of leaving the narrow neck of land that ends near Sainteny. Even this prospect meant little, for the area southwest of Sainteny offered small hope of rapid advance. Dry ground suitable for military operations was nonexistent. The sluggish Sèves and Holerotte Rivers were swollen with rain, transforming the six miles of approach to Périers into a desolate bog scarcely distinguishable from swamp. The division not only had to fight the soggy crust of the land and the high water table, it also had to cross innumerable drainage ditches, small streams, and inundated marshes in an area without a single hard-surfaced road. The terrain alone would have been a serious obstacle; defended by Germans it was almost impassable.

Restricted by inadequate maneuver space, hindered by soft marshland, handicapped by the difficulties of observation, General Barton was unable to concentrate the power of his infantry and supporting arms in a sustained effort.

Sergeant Cohen was killed in action on July 9, 1944. According to a digitized hospital admission card under his service number, Cohen was struck by a bullet or other projectile and killed. Blumenson wrote that by July 15, 1944, the 4th Infantry Division was “still four miles short of Périers[.]” He continued: “The 4th Division was to be relieved and sent into reserve. In ten days of combat it had sustained approximately 2,300 casualties, including three battalion commanders and nine rifle company commanders. Progress at this cost was prohibitive.”

Later that month, however, on July 25, 1944, the Allies launched Operation Cobra, which finally led to the breakout from Normandy, the encirclement of German forces in the Falaise Pocket, and the withdrawal of German forces from most of France.

The Cohen family had been notified of Sergeant Cohen’s death by July 31, 1944, when the sad news appeared in Journal-Every Evening. Once the war ended, they requested that Sergeant Cohen’s body be repatriated. After services at the Chandler Funeral Home in Wilmington on July 11, 1948, Sergeant Cohen was buried in the Jewish section of Lombardy Cemetery, now known as the Jewish Community Cemetery. Other members of his family including his parents were also buried there after their deaths.

Sergeant Cohen is honored at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle and on a memorial at the Jewish Community Cemetery for local Jewish servicemembers killed during World War II.


Notes

Parents

On his naturalization application, Samuel Cohen stated that he was born in Homel, Russia—also known as Gomel or Homyel and located in present-day Belarus—on January 15, 1897. He stated he emigrated from Antwerp, Belgium, on or about June 20, 1913, arriving in New York on July 1, 1913, aboard the Kroonland. As is common for Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in that era, there are discrepancies about his age and place of birth. His World War I and World War II draft cards listed his date of birth as January 15, 1898, consistent with his age on his headstone. Samuel’s World War II draft card also listed his place of birth as Bobrish (Babruysk), which is also located in eastern Belarus, albeit to the northwest of Homel.

The naturalization document gave Annie Cohen’s place of birth as Rechitsa (Rechytsa), also located in the Gomel Region in modern Belarus.

The Cohens listed their address as 103 West Front Street when Samuel registered for the draft eight days before Herman’s birth at 619 West 2nd Street. Beatrice Cohen was also born at 619 West 2nd Street four years later.

Duty

Cohen’s two grade promotion to sergeant was likely due to significant casualties that his unit sustained in Normandy. Under Table of Organization and Equipment No. 7-17, at full strength, an infantry rifle company had 15 sergeants. Nine were assistant squad leaders (three per squad, with three squads in each of three rifle platoons). There was also a communication sergeant in company headquarters. In the weapons platoon, there were two sergeants serving as squad leaders in the light machine gun section and three squad leaders in the mortar section.

Hospital Admission Card

Hospital admission cards were filled out even when a casualty did not survive to make it to an aid station. Sergeant Cohen’s status was killed in action rather than died of wounds, indicating that he died immediately or soon after being hit.

Another Herman Cohen

Cohen’s common name makes it difficult to know if some newspaper stories are referring to him. Another Herman Cohen (1922–2018) from Wilmington served in the U.S. Army in World War II, in the Pacific Theater.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware, to the Grossman family, and to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos.


Bibliography

“3 Delaware Men Killed in Normandy.” Journal-Every Evening, July 31, 1944. Pg. 1 and 12. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90073847/cohen-and-balick-kia-pg-1/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90073931/cohen-and-balick-kia-pg-2/  

“Action Against Enemy, Reports After/After Action Report.” Headquarters, 22nd Infantry, July 21, 1944. https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/sites/default/files/research/online-documents/d-day/1944-07-21-after-action-report.pdf

Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776–1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_2421402106_0382-00143

Beatrice Cohen birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DYQ9-92W

Blumenson, Martin. United States Army in World War II European Theater of Operations: Breakout and Pursuit. Center of Military History, United States Army, 1961. https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-E-Breakout/index.html

Cohen, Beatrice. Herman Cohen Individual Military Service Record, December 10, 1944. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/18163/rec/1

Cohen, Herman. Letter to Mollye Sklut, March 22, 1942. Dear Mollye Letters. Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware. https://jhsdelaware.org/collections/digital/items/show/195

“Death Notices.” Journal-Every Evening, July 9, 1948. Pg. 16. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90075912/herman-cohen-funeral/

Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-266-12410-76959-28

Frank, William P. “The Man About Town.” Journal-Every Evening, August 1, 1944. Pg. 6.

Herman Cohen birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DRJ7-NCZ

McManus, John C. The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944—The American War From the Normandy Beaches to Falaise. Forge Books, 2004.

Naturalization Petitions of the U.S. District and Circuit Courts For the District of Delaware, 1795–1930. Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1193/images/M1644_17-0055

Silverman, Lowell. “Private James R. Wilson (1913–1944).” https://delawarewwiifallen.com/2021/06/01/private-james-r-wilson/ 

“Sgt Herman Cohen.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/50555426/herman-cohen

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2006.

“Table of Organization and Equipment No. 7-17: Infantry Rifle Company.” War Department, February 26, 1944. Military Research Service website. http://www.militaryresearch.org/7-17%2026Feb44.pdf

“Twice-Decorated Delaware Flier Killed Over Reich.” Wilmington Morning News, August 1, 1944. Pg. 1 and 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90073329/cohen-and-balick-kia-pg-1/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90073286/cohen-and-balick-kia-pg-2/

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295771-00636  

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531894_00894

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00549-00708

U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, 19421954. Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), 1775–1994. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/record/704687798/cohen-herman-us-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954

World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6482/images/005207041_03531

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=32068207&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=2737535

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_09_00002-01112, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_09_00002-01165  


Last updated on January 24, 2022

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