An unlikely spy, Marthe Cohn risked life to help Allied cause

marthecohnepl.03.adv.jpgMarthe Cohn speaks about her World War II experiences. (Photo by Raegan Labat, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

For four years in France during World War II, Marthe Cohn tried to avoid German forces while helping fellow Jews do the same. Her sister, Stephanie, was unable to avoid the Nazis and died in Auschwitz.

Once Allied forces liberated Paris, however, Cohn was more than a survivor. She became a heroine.

Blonde, blue-eyed and fair-skinned, Cohn became a spy inside Germany and uncovered information credited for saving lives and speeding the war’s end.

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Growing up in occupied France

JordaJones.050615 35.jpgSiblings Marie Jorda Jones and Gerald Jorda saw their country, France, occupied then liberated during World War II. (Photo by Travis Spradling, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

When anniversaries of the end of World War II in Europe — or V-E Day — come around, it’s an abstraction for most Americans. Not for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, siblings Marie Jorda Jones and Gerard Jorda.

Both were teens in northern France when the war came to their country in 1940. By the time it ended, Marie was engaged to an American. In between, they endured an occupation that turned them into refugees for more than two years.

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Taking care of the wounded

Irma Darphin... 05/28/04Irma Darphin served as a nurse in Europe after the Normandy Invasion. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)

By George Morris

The smell of cordite no longer hung in the air when Lt. Irma Darphin came ashore on Utah Beach in 1944. Six weeks had passed since D-Day, and shells no longer fell, bullets no longer flew and the groans of the wounded no longer sounded along the Normandy coast.

But there was no shortage of wounded soldiers in France, and Darphin was on her way to help them.

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Watching the attack on Pearl Harbor

pearl_shaw-explodingUSS Shaw explodes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 (National Archives)

By George Morris

The day that helped define the 20th century started as a typical Sunday morning in 14-year-old Janice Hobson’s home in Honolulu, Hawaii. An Ink Spots song, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” was playing on the radio. The only oddity was that her dad, usually the first one up, was sleeping late. It was almost 8 a.m.

But it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Someone was setting the world on fire.

Janice heard a car horn blowing across the street. From a window, she saw a neighbor, Edward Bogan — who, like her dad, Sebaldus, served in the Navy — running with his young daughter in his arms.

“He jumped out of the car, grabbed the little girl and went up these steps to our house screaming, ‘The g-d Japs are bombing the hell out of Pearl Harbor!’” she said.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Baton Rouge resident Janice Hobson Wall Monro remembers it well.

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Meeting Rene Gagnon

A date with history *** Woman remembers meeting Marine... 09/30/04
Alyne Gray was the escort for Marine Pfc. Rene Gagnon at a May, 30, 1945 war bond rally in Alexandria, Louisiana. Gagnon was one of the six men who raised the second flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, whose image became one of the most famous of World War II. (Photograph by Advocate staff photo by Patrick Dennis published on Oct. 22, 2004. Used by permission of The Advocate.)

By George Morris

Recently, the U.S. Marine Corps acknowledged it is investigating one of the most iconic images of World War II — Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s image of six men raising an American flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. For 71 years, that group has been thought to include Navy Corpsman John Bradley. Now, historians are calling that into question.

No one, however, questions the presence of Marine Pfc. Rene Gagnon. After that image hit the front page of just about every American newspaper, Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes and Bradley were pulled out of the war zone and taken stateside as celebrity spokesmen for war bond drives. The other three Marines — Cpl. Harlon Block, Sgt. Michael Strank and Pfc. Franklin Sousley — were killed in action on Iwo Jima.

A central Louisiana 19-year-old during World War II, Alyne Swayze Gray, had seen the photo. And, on May 30, 1945, she got to meet Gagnon.

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Update: WASPs can be buried at Arlington

One of my recent posts was about Marion Brown’s service as a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot. Now, Congress has approved them for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Overdue, but a good thing.

The Katyn Massacre

Katyn_massacre_1Mass grave discovered in 1943 in Katyn, USSR.


By George Morris

Dachau. Bataan. Katyn. Generations of post-war Americans have grown up knowing about the first two places, but few have heard of the third.

But Sophia Grebocki Denham was aware. She lost her husband there.

“People should know what happened there,” Denham said in 2000.

What happened there was an atrocity.

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WASPs left their mark on World War II

Women_Airforce_Service_PilotsFrances Green, Margaret “Peg” Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn during WASP ferry training on the B-17 Flying Fortress (U.S. Air Force photo)

By George Morris

There was a lot the U.S. Army Air Forces couldn’t have imagined on Dec. 6, 1941. One was Marion Brown.

After the next day, eyes and minds started opening rather quickly.

There was no doubt that, for the first time in history, a major war would involve a significant contribution by air forces. It was planes, not ships, that attacked Pearl Harbor, and it was German fighter planes, dive bombers and heavy bombers that blitzed through Europe and pounded England. It took little imagination to envision that airmen would have an enormous role.

But women? They would have a part to play, too, even if not in combat.

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