Donald Myron Cohen, World War II pilot, dies

Donald Myron "Donny" Cohen, a World War II P-51 fighter pilot who flew on the last combat mission over Germany and later became a chemical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, died Nov. 5 at his Fallston home from complications of Parkinson's disease.

He was 86.

In the early hours of May 8, 1945, Mr. Cohen was sitting in the cockpit of the Lady Ellen, the P-51 fighter that he named after his wife, and waiting to take off from Ansbach Airfield, a captured former Luftwaffe base in northern Bavaria.

He was about to embark on a fighter sweep to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, with the "Rover Boys," 10 other P-51 pilots and their planes assigned to the 9th Air Force's famed 354th Pioneer Mustang Group on what they thought was a routine mission.

By the time they returned later that day to Ansbach, the war in Europe had ended. A jubilant Sgt. Raymond Touchstone, of Broken Bow, Ariz., stood on the tarmac waiting to tell the fliers that it was finally all over, the Germans had surrendered, and V-E Day had been declared.

In his gray-blue Aviation Supply Corp. pilot log that measured 5 by 7 inches, Mr. Cohen had cautiously written, "Escort A-26. Last official mission (?). Trans. Lady Ellen," and where his signature should have been, "V-E Day."

Mr. Cohen, the son of an owner of a wholesale grocery company and a schoolteacher, was born and raised in New Britain, Conn.

While he was attending junior high school, he met and fell in love with Ellen Selma Pearson, whom he married in 1946.

After graduating from New Britain High School in 1941, he began studying engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. With the coming of World War II, he joined the Reserve Officers Training Program, and in December 1942 he enlisted in the Army Aviation Cadet Program.

"Dad lied about his age to get into the service. His mother wouldn't give her permission, so he lied," said his son, Alan Cohen of Bolton Hill. "He was very patriotic and wanted to do something for his country."

He was called to active duty in February 1943. He spent the next year in flight training, earning his wings in 1944. After completing fighter pilot training in February 1945, he was sent to Europe, where he joined the 354th.

He flew 23 combat sorties and was awarded two Air Medals, one with the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for "meritorious achievement."

"He has flown on fighter sweeps, dive-bombed, and strafed German airfields, railroad yards and other military objectives as well as harassed supply and communication lines, while spearheading Third Army advances," reported the New Britain Herald newspaper.

The 354th was also awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for establishing a wartime record for 701 aerial kills plus 256 on the ground during 27 months of combat operations.

Mr. Cohen and the other 10 pilots were officially citied for flying the last official combat mission of World War II.

After serving for a year with the occupation forces, Mr. Cohen was discharged with the rank of lieutenant and resumed his studies at Hopkins, earning a degree in chemical engineering in 1948.

He was employed as a civilian ordnance design engineer with the Army Chemical Corps from 1948 to 1950, when he was recalled to active duty during the Korean conflict.

Mr. Cohen was assigned to New York University's Graduate School of Meteorology for training as an Air Force weather officer. He later saw active duty in Korea as a weather officer.

Discharged in 1953, he returned to civilian status and moved to his home in Fallston. He began working for the Army Department at Edgewood Arsenal and later at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

He was a senior engineer and a technical system engineering officer, and finally before his 1980 retirement, chief of the Smoke Program Management Office.

Mr. Cohen never lost his love for flying and maintained his private pilot's license.

"He and several other fellows shared flying a Cessna," his son said. "Even in later years when he was out for a walk, he'd hear an airplane and could tell what degree and direction it was going without even seeing it."

While his family knew of his wartime achievements, it was something Mr. Cohen seldom talked about, his son said.

For the remainder of his life, Mr. Cohen kept on his desk at home the flight log that he had carried with him all through the war that recorded his missions.

"He was very proud of what he did but never bragged," his wife said. "He just wanted to be a good American."

He was an avid traveler.

Mr. Cohen's ashes will be interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in the spring of 2011.

In addition to his wife of 64 years and son, Mr. Cohen is survived by two daughters, Dr. Donna Cohen of Tampa, Fla., and Dr. Cynthia Owen of Seven Valleys, Pa.; a sister, Leona "Cyssie" Cohen of New Britain; and a granddaughter.

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