D-Day Veteran, Gene Cogan

Gene Cogan 1World War II D-Day veteran Gene Cogan never tires of telling everyone he meets to always remember the sacrifices made by the thousands of GIs killed and wounded defeating Nazi tyranny in Europe.

He describes the undying gratitude of the French people who pay homage to American veterans like himself returning to France to visit the battle sites and memorials and join in remembrance celebrations.

Cogan, 90, of Avilla, is making one last visit to Omaha Beach this month to place a bronze plaque at a memorial near Omaha Beach.
The retired school administrator will travel alone to the small French village of Vierville-Sur-Mer in Normandy on Aug. 16 to place the plaque he had made on an old stone wall in memory of Sgt. Thomas Stevenson of New York City and Sgt. David Kehl of Moses Lake, Wash. Stevenson, Kehl and Cogan were members of the 3rd platoon, Company D, 115th regiment of the U.S. Army’s 29th Division. They were in the second wave that landed on Omaha Beach.

Stevenson was killed on July 16, 1944 in St. Lo.

Kehl was wounded, sent back to the U.S., honorably discharged and went on to have a very successful and rewarding life. He passed away in 1995. Cogan kept in close contact with him.

Cogan was wounded twice by German gunfire and lay injured overnight beyond the beach until he was found the next day. He was sent back to the U.S., honorably discharged and went into school administration including principal at LaOtto and Avilla schools.

In June 2004 Cogan joined other World War II veterans on a trip to Normandy to celebrate the 60th anniversary of D-Day. While visiting Vierville-Sur-Mer near Omaha Beach that became a supply depot for the 29th division during the invasion, Cogan met Carol Duvall, a village resident. Her father was 10 years old when he was befriended by GIs who liberated his village.

Duvall has been ever grateful for that, and became a member of a French organization called Deep Respect. Its goal is to restore the monuments dotted around the French countryside dedicated to the U.S. troops.

Duvall and Cogan met again in 2011 at a 29th division reunion in Virginia, and again in February this year when Cogan spoke at a remembrance program in Vierville-Sur-Mer. She was also instrumental in Cogan receiving the French Legion of Honor last year.

On this trip to the French village Cogan is taking with him the 13-pound, 12-inch by 12-inch plaque. He will place it in the 300-foot stone wall that has become a memorial to the 29th division. Hite Funeral Home in Kendallville and Ley’s Monuments in Avilla purchased the plaque for him.

A French film company is planning to make a documentary about D-Day for the 70th anniversary in 2014, and they may interview Cogan. Duvall plans to videotape his visit for him. He will also spend time with his son who lives in Germany.

“This will be my last trip,” he said, when asked if he plans to return for the 70th anniversary celebrations. Cogan will be 91 on Dec. 7. He’s enjoyed good health and a clear mind all his life, and still plays golf when his back isn’t bothering him.

“I’ve been blessed, really blessed. I was so fortunate I didn’t die that day long ago,” he said.

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