The Power Blog: A Life of Service by Joe Dean – The remarkable life of 1st Lt Lucile M. Cohn
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for 1st Lt Lucile M. Cohn’s honorable and faithful service.”
It was one of the most upbeat groups of people I have ever met at a funeral. It was great. That is, until the Army showed up. Then, it was better than great. Just like Lucy’s remarkable life, her service at Arlington National Cemetery quickly became meaningful, poignant, patriotic and joy-filled.
It was sharing. It was steeped in kindness and fellowship. It was fleeting. It was Lucy.
But first, the Caisson Platoon of the Third Army Infantry Regiment, the oldest infantry unit in the United States Army, took control. In an instant, on this bright spring morning, our small group was transformed. The glorious depth of a life well lived was manifested in one of the most solemn ceremonies in the United States – carrying the remains of a U.S. servicewoman to her final resting place. The honor of it all was overwhelming to us and to a serendipitous platoon of school children visiting nearby, who stopped to see what the gathering was all about. When Taps was played and Lucy’s flag was folded and presented on behalf of a grateful nation, tears flowed.
The tears were not just for Lucy and her extraordinary life of service. They were, for me at least, for the beautiful way in which she died. As the Rabbi prayed, as ancient, holy words were spoken aloud, words of dust and life and death, I realized again, that Lucy had set the bar for dying and for dignity. First though, she lived. From her youthful life of heroism near the front lines in WWII, to her later philanthropy and community service, she gave to others. She worked with children in need, she supported the arts and perhaps most notably, she nurtured veterans with PTSD. Before she died, she fulfilled a long held, solemn promise. She “dressed for a date,” and visited her husband’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery.
Her friends and clients were legion. Anyone who wrestled with mental health challenges, and met with Lucy, experienced pure unconditional love. Love born of a woman who had seen close-up the ravages of war and the paradoxical strength and fragility of the human condition. Lucy worked tirelessly to bring vulnerable people toward wellness. It was the passion of her life until the day she died. In fact, her final days were spent joyfully ministering to those around her in hospice. Upon her death, she insisted that her body be donated to science. “They can have it for about a year, I hope they learn some things,” she said. “Then I want to be buried with the love of my life, with Norman.”
And so it was. And so we cried: at her passing, at her remarkable life and in humble honor of the United States Army in which she so proudly served. In return, the Army’s Old Guard magnificently honored her. Working since 4 a.m. on this “typical” day, they would bury eight of their band of brothers and sisters. Yet the Army faithful comported themselves as if Lucy were the only one. They would be fully present. Because for them, the men and women of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, she was family. Thus, like family, they proceeded: the slow salute, the soulful marching band, the Color Guard, the Rifle Volley, the precise folding of the flag, all of it standing as witness to Lucy and the Military’s remarkable level of devotion on behalf of a grateful nation.
It was difficult to leave. The breaking news in the world outside of this peaceful mourning was of more terror and carnage, more dysfunction and sadness. It was better here at Arlington. Surrounded by heroes and good, humble people. I knew that Lucy understood the world to be mostly good. I knew too that the world outside today could use Lucy Cohn, gently urging all of us toward wellness. I stood with my wife Jane, who was Lucy’s kind and fortunate Guardian on an Honor Flight. We stood with our good friend, Director of the film Honor Flight, Dan Hayes. We lingered and I touched Lucy’s tombstone. She had taught me much. About living. About dying. And from all those great conversations we had on Honor Flight and subsequent visits to her Milwaukee home, I remembered this:
“Trust me,” she would say. “It’s okay. Help people. It’ll be okay.”