Bea Cohen, a real-life “Rosie the Riveter,” is 102 but still crusading passionately for the welfare of U.S. war veterans. Here she accepts an award from Redondo Veterans Memorial Task Force Chair Herb Masi. Photo by Rachel Reeves
Bea Cohen is a woman on a mission, committed to a cause she’s been passionate about for most of her 102 years.
The subject of much media attention and recipient of several notable awards, the centenarian has dedicated her life to helping the people she says built her adopted country: the U.S. veterans.
At a ceremony organized in her honor Jan. 10, she was still crusading, more interested in telling the cameras that homeless veterans need socks than in celebrating the brick bearing her name, which was this month laid in the ground at the Veteran’s Park memorial.
Sponsored by the Redondo Veterans Memorial Task Force, the brick pays tribute to Cohen, a real-life ‘Rosie the Riveter’ who remembers leaving her native Romania during World War I, who worked for Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica making munitions and supplies during World War II, and who eventually enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). From her post in England she manned mimeographs and the kitchen, and when she returned to Los Angeles after the war she met and married her late husband, who had been a prisoner of war for more than three years on Corregidor Island in the Philippines.
Cohen has spent her post-service years helping veterans – making wheelchair quilts and bags, collecting socks, and drumming up support. In 1990 she became legally blind, but she hasn’t missed a beat; she’s still articulate, chatty, and loyal to her lifelong passion.
On a sunny Thursday, wearing her original uniform, Cohen strode purposefully toward the TV cameras and the crowd gathered to celebrate her.
“Oh my God, how beautiful, oh my God, this is gorgeous,” she said of the brick bearing this inscription: “Bea Abrams-Cohen, 1941 Rosie the Riveter, 43-45 WAAC.”
She also graciously accepted a certificate from the taskforce and a certificate from Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi.
But throughout the hour-long ceremony, in between her interviews and thank yous, she steered conversation back to the veterans, “We need socks” being her preferred mantra.
“One thing I want to say – well, there are a lot of things I want to say [but] honor the veterans. Never forget them and respect the uniform. Don’t take things for granted,” she said.
Cohen certainly doesn’t. She’s grateful for her adopted country and, above all, the men and women who gave their lives to build it.
“It’s wonderful you have honored me here. I didn’t expect it at all; it encourages me to do more work,” she said, laughing and adding: “We need underwear.”