Retired Army colonel Frank Cohn was born in 1925 in Breslau, Germany, now called Wrocław, in Poland. Cohn was raised by loving parents who ran a sporting goods store, the Army reports, but his childhood and the safety of his family were overshadowed by the growing threat of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.
“Frank’s teacher, who he said ‘was very nice’ the previous year, arrived in a Nazi uniform,” The Army reports. “His classmates were indoctrinated as Hitler Youth, which fueled the Third Reich’s ideology.”
Cohn said this “scared the hell out of” him.
Cohn’s parents moved him to a private Jewish school. Though their son would be safer from racism and violent threats, hostilities toward the Jewish community in Germany continued to rise. One day, Cohn found Nazis protesting the Cohn’s rights outside their own store.
“The minute Hitler came into power, uniformed Nazis picketed the store with signs that said, ‘Don’t buy from Jews,’” Cohn said.
Soon after, Gestapo police arrived at the Cohn’s home with an arrest warrant for the boys father.
it wasn’t until 1938 that Cohn’s family was able to escape Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. They started a new life in New York, where 13-year-old Cohn learned the new language from watching American films and listening to the radio.
“To this day, his favorite is still the 1939 classic ‘Gone with the Wind’ starring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable,” the Army reports.
In 1943, after turning 18, Cohn enlisted in the Army. He would be headed back to Germany. This time he traveled as a soldier.
According to Stripes, Cohn worked as an intelligence agent with the 12th Army Group. He was responsible for interrogating Nazis arrested for war crimes.
“When I left Germany, I was a victim,” Cohn said. “When I came back, I was in charge. Whenever we captured Germans, [my job was] to communicate with them. For that reason, it felt pretty good to be back in Germany.”
Cohn served in the Battle of the Bulge and beat back the Nazi advance in France. After the war, he returned home to New York, attended the City College of New York and got married before joining back up with the Army as a military police officer, Stripes reports.
Cohn was deployed to wars in Korea and Vietnam and went back to Germany three more times before he retired in 1978. Cohn’s last assignment with the Army was as chief of staff for the Military District of Washington, where he lives today.
During Cohn’s military career, he was inducted into the Military Police Hall of Fame and named District Citizen of the Year and Lord Fairfax in Mount Vernon.
“He was also invited to Moscow, Russia, three times for the anniversaries of the U.S.-Soviet meeting at the Elbe; and received multiple medals including the French Chevalier Legion of Honor and the German Grand Service Cross — despite never acknowledging his heritage to the Germans,” the Army reports.
Cohn was also recently awarded the Order of the Marechaussee. This distinction recognizes the veteran’s “exceptional dedication, competence, and contribution to the Military Police Corps Regiment.”
According to Stripes, Marechaussee is the French name for the renown guard corps that was eventually was replaced by Gendarmerie after the French Revolution. In Cohn’s context, it represents a lifetime of service from a courageous and humble veteran.
Learn more about Cohn’s service in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.