Camden Courier Post – May 26, 2008
By KRISTY DAVIES
Second Lieutenant Warren Stafford Jr., of Haddon Heights, was in the Army Air Force when his entire B-17 Flying Fortress crew of 10 men was reported missing on Feb. 3, 1944 during World War II.
During World War I, Merchant Marine Charles Daniels, 23, of Camden drowned when he and his brother, George Daniels, were in a lifeboat that capsized after their ship, the SS Atlantic Sun, was sunk by a German submarine. Army Specialist Joseph Tiefenthaler, 21, of Brooklawn, was killed in action during his tour of duty in Vietnam on May 13, 1967.
These veterans, along with more than 1,200 war veterans who died while serving their country, can be found on a virtual memorial complete with names, descriptions, photos and scanned copies of newspaper articles thanks to the dedicated work of a Pennsauken man.
Phil Cohen, 52, spent many years in Camden. One day, while paying a visit to City Hall, he noticed that a veteran he knew was killed in action was not listed on a veteran memorial there. That inspired him to create his own memorial.
“There were people missing who had given their lives for this country,” said Cohen. “I thought that was pretty poor, but now I understand what happened.”
Cohen started his quest in 2002 by finding all the veteran memorials in Camden County. From there, he would go to the historical society and research each name.
“There’s more to these veterans than just a name,” Cohen said. “They had families, wives and children. They grew up in these communities.”
During his research, Cohen ran into several obstacles including, but not limited to, incorrect information. One particular case, he said, was that of Pvt. William Coonrod who was listed in a county book, “Camden County in the Great War,” from Camden. Coonrod died at Camp Dix — now Fort Dix — from the Spanish influenza on Oct. 5, 1918. However, further research revealed that Coonrod was from Camden, New York, not New Jersey.
“This guy is on our county memorial although he’s never stepped foot here,” said Cohen, “but that’s OK. It’s an honor to have him.”
Cohen sacrificed lunch hours and evenings to sort through newspaper articles and read morning and evening editions of the Courier-Post from the past. His Web site has listings for World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
“I gave up football for two years,” said Cohen. “But it’s all paid for by these men who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Cohen’s site has received attention from veterans and family members all over the country.
“I’ve received hundreds of letters and phone calls,” Cohen said.
Walt Sandell, 69, of Haddon Heights is a Vietnam War veteran involved with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1958 and is a graduate of Camden Catholic High School. Sandell has been creating spreadsheets of Camden County veterans killed in action to include their graduating high schools. Each name is linked to Cohen’s Web site.
“I wanted to find out who all the people from Camden Catholic were,” Sandell said. “Then it expanded to try to track down what high school the different people went to and encourage them or spur memorials to all those KIAs at the different high schools.
“But Phil had done all the work well ahead of me,” he added. “(The Web site) is fabulous. He’s done a tremendous amount of research.”
Cohen said one of the most important lessons he’s learned from his research is that “everybody went (to war).” There was no discrimination by race, ethnicity or affluence.
“(Cohen) is a real leader in our veterans’ community dedicated to preserving the veterans that passed before us,” said Norman Sooy, director of Camden County Veterans Affairs. “This is a great history log on our veterans that once came from Camden County. I was always hoping someone would document our monuments and veterans on the monuments, and that’s what Phil has done.”
Cohen said he will continue to do research and update the site. He is currently working on Vietnam veterans and those killed in the war on terrorism. He also accepts anything family members can provide such as photos, information and newspaper clippings.
“It’s very important to preserve history,” Cohen said. “We are the creation of our memories. If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it and there’s a great deal of history here.”
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