By Barbara Fischler, Sr. Vice Commander Post 45
Our own Ben Cooper, member of Sgt. John L. Levitow, Jewish War Veterans Post 45, was recently inducted into the 2017 Class of the CT Veterans Hall of Fame.
Ben was born in Avon, CT, December 24, 1921. Drafted at age 20, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Serving as a combat medic with the 45th Infantry Division (AKA the “Thunderbird Division”). The Division originated in Oklahoma, and contained a high percentage of Native Americans. He was in the European Theatre in two battles: The Rhineland Campaign, and the Central Europe Campaign. Ben took part in the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp with the 45th Division.
For 45 years after he came home from the war in November of 1945, Ben was so traumatized by the tragedies witnessed as a combat medic with a frontline Infantry Platoon, he did not tell his wife, his parents, or his children about his experiences. In 1990, while being interviewed by a history teacher from Torrington High School, Ben was first able to talk about his experiences.
Every year since then, he has been speaking at schools throughout Connecticut. He has dedicated his life to sharing his stories with the hope that by advocating kindness, he can help children and adults put an end to bullying and hatred at any level. Ben has shared his stories with countless people and veterans throughout Connecticut and beyond, and many schools too numerous to mention. He is a captivating and inspirational speaker and brings history to life with his personal stories and memorabilia. He wants people of all ages to realize war is a terrible thing, to understand the realities of war, and to remember the Holocaust. It is an eye opener for them and still a healing process for Ben. He also speaks to civic groups and libraries.
He had a small camera during the war. The photos and artifacts he brought back from the war enhance his presentations. He deeply touches all who he meets and has received countless letters and emails from students and teachers. Ben enjoys meeting and thanking all veterans who have served our country. He has been interviewed on several radio and television programs. He was an Honorary Grand Marshall in the CT Veterans Parade in 2004. He has marched in many Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day parades wearing his Eisenhower jacket.
Ben is an active member of the Sgt. John L. Levitow Post 45, Jewish War Veterans in West Hartford, CT. He was honored among other Liberators at the National Executive Committee of the Jewish War Veterans in Washington, DC in 2015.
He expresses his mottos in all of his talks: “No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted,” “Save humanity,” “Stop hatred and bullying,” “You can do it,” “Never give up,” and, remember, ”We all belong to the same race, the human race.”
Ben Cooper’s enduring dedication to sharing his message makes him a very special veteran, humanitarian, father, husband, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend to so many.
Life has its mysteries. In 1996, at an annual event to remember the Holocaust, at the State Capitol in Hartford, Ben was wearing his Eisenhower jacket with the Thunderbird emblem on his sleeve. It was noticed by Leo Scheinerman, a survivor of Dachau attending the event. He told Ben he remembered that he and his wife Anna had been liberated by the 45th Infantry Division. They became friends. In 2006, Ben had open-heart surgery and his surgeon’s name was Dr. Jacob Scheinerman, the son of that couple.
After 65 years of marriage, in 2009, Ben lost his beloved wife, Dorothy. In 2010, he met a Holocaust survivor, Henny Simon from Colchester, CT, who wrote an autobiography about how she survived the Holocaust. Henny had been speaking at schools since 1985. Since then, they had been presenting their talks together and made an unforgettable impact. Sadly, Henny was killed in a car accident in 2017.
His philosophy of life, positive attitude, quick wit, sense of humor, and his many acts of kindness are a wonderful role model and guide for his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, as well as everyone he meets.
Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018