Military Stories from World War II: Aaron Cohn, William B. Hart, Allen Stinson, & Frank Lumpkin Jr.
In July, Historic Columbus will be celebrating our community's military history through the stories of our veterans. For the Thursday History Spotlights, we will focus on stories from World War II. Stories of our veterans from other wars are also being highlighted during the week on our social media. You can check them out here:
There are so many stories and the ones that will be featured merely scratch the surface. Thank you for celebrating our veterans with us this month!
Two wonderful books will be our main sources to honor our heroes:
Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby and Saluting our Heroes: Part I - World War II by the students of the Shaw High School Service Learning Project, 2004.
Aaron Cohn Liberates Austrian Concentration Camp Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007) When Aaron Cohn said good-bye to his friends and acquaintances in Columbus, he envisioned being assigned to any of the world’s hot spots. So, he was surprised and a bit embarrassed to learn that his initial assignment would take him no farther than Harmony Church at Fort Benning. The paymaster told him he did not know what kind of a soldier he’d turn out to be, but Cohn would at least have the distinction of receiving the smallest travel pay he’d ever issues: sixty-four cents for his eight miles. Having grown up on a farm and spending his youth around horses, Aaron chose to serve in the cavalry. He could have served in the JAG Corps because of his law degree and been relatively safe during the war years, but Cohn was not interested in a desk job. By the time the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment deployed to Europe, Cohn had risen to the post of Regimental S-3 Operations Officer under General James Polk, who became Cohn’s life-long friend.
Cohn’s unit landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day, and Aaron soon saw action in the thickest of fighting in central Europe. Through four major campaigns, he led his subordinates, and like Hannibal, even crossed the Alps, but his most vivid war memory lay ahead of him. As the Germans retreated, the Third Cavalry was the first of the Allies to encounter the Jewish concentration camo at Ebensee, Austria. Having seen only one other concentration camp and not yet understanding how extensive the holocaust had been, Cohn sickened at the sight of so many dead lying around the camp like scattered leaves. The gaunt inmates who survived their enforced starvation spied Cohn nervously as he approached them. They assumed he was an SS officer because he wore a pistol. Aaron told them he was not German, but an American soldier, and also a Jew. These native of many different European countries had been rounded up for extinction solely because of their common religion, and now their liberator stood before them, a man of their own faith. Some kissed his hands, and some dropped down and kissed his boots. They never forgot Cohn and what he symbolized as they started over in life, many as founders of the new nation of Israel. More than four decades later, Aaron’s son was touring Israel and met a man who was at Ebensee that day. He still remembered his liberator’s name – Aaron Cohn.
Aaron’s wife Janet Ann’s younger brother idolized Aaron and dreamed of being the military leader that Cohn had become. Leslie Lilienthal was sent into battle as an individual replacement. He died on his third day of combat. Cohn convinced the family to bury their son in Europe rather than at home because he believed the sight of the Star of David among all the crosses at St. James Cemetery in Brittany would remind the world that Jews had been both liberated and liberators. Janet Ann had delivered his daughter, Gail, shortly before Aaron deployed. When he returned, she gave him a son, Leslie, named after Janet Ann’s brother, as well as another daughter, Jane. They reared their three children in Columbus and Cohn became the Juvenile Judge for Columbus and the region in 1965. In 2007, they celebrated their sixty-sixth wedding anniversary, and at ninety-one, he was the oldest and longest serving Juvenile Judge in America.
The Aaron Cohn family (L to R): Aaron, Leslie, Jane, Janet Ann, and Gail
William Bullard Hart, Prisoner of War Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007)
On the other side of the Atlantic from his Columbus home on Third Avenue (now known as the Bullard-Hart-Sampson House), William Bullard Hart paced the British B-17 hangar. After volunteering for the Army Air Corps and training in Texas, he was eager to begin his assignment as a bombardier. Once he had flown the required twenty-five missions, Bill Pete (as they called him in Columbus) could rotate back to the States and out of harm’s way. Nearby, a seasoned crew discussed their final mission before going home. When Bill Pete heard them say they were short a bombardier, he thought, “Why not fly with these experienced men for my maiden flight and learn from them; then I’ll be less nervous about flying with my crew of rookies when the time comes.” So, twenty-five-year-old Lieutenant Hart climbed into the nose of the B-17, frightened but confident. Up in the frigid November skies over Frankfurt, he spied their objective through the plane’s plexiglass nose. Hart lined up the target in his bombsight and flew the plane to the point of the bob’ automatic release. But just as the payload sailed toward its destination, German flak ripped into the plane, and it began to fall from the sky.
The crew bailed out into a minus forty-degree sky. Trembling so badly he could hardly catch his breath, Hart rolled to the ground only to find himself surrounded by German soldiers. It was November 1943, six months before the Allied forces invaded Normandy, and Bill Pete was already a prisoner of war. For most of the next eighteen months, he shivered through his sentence at Stalag Luft 1 near the Baltic Sea. Allowed to write a few letters home, he coded information about his capture so that it would pass the censors. He asked such questions as: “Did cousin Frank every marry Mary Fort?” Since the family had no cousin Frank, they pieced together (by marrying Frank and Fort) that William had been shot down over Frankfurt.
At one point, Bill Pete and others planned an escape. Working in the kitchen, they saved tin cans to make a “suit” of garbage for one of them to wear. They stuffed this man into the garbage can. Once outside, he could cut the wire fence and the others could follow. But the ruse was discovered when the man moved, and the cans clinked together. All involved in the plot were sentenced to six weeks solitary confinement. Finally, after eighteen long months of cold and deprivation, the camp was liberated in May 1945.
After the war, Bill Pete partnered with his friend Mike Jennings to run the Fairfield Inn near Sapphire Valley, North Carolina. It was here that Bill Pete met Sarah “Sasa” Rawson Smith Jordan, granddaughter of Georgia Governor Hoke Smith and the war widow of Columbusite Mulford Jordan, who had been killed in action on Christmas Eve, 1944. Bill Pete and Sasa married in 1948 and returned to Columbus to raise their family. He died on October 5, 1985.
Allen Stinson By Eric Robinson and Kayleigh Schultheiss Saluting Our Heroes: Part I – World War II by Shaw High School students (2004) Mr. Allen Stinson was born on December 15, 1924. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Booker T. Washington High School, from which he graduated in 1943. He was restless then and did not know what he wanted to do with his life, and so he decided to join the army. Due to segregation, it was very hard for him, as a Black man, to enlist into the army. His mother did not want him to be a part of the war, but he did. Everyone wanted to be a part, and people were looked down on if they did not join the service. Mr. Stinson joined the Merchant Marines that took all of the supplies overseas from people to tanks to airplanes. The first ship he was on was the U.S.S. Suffolk, which set sail with him aboard on July 21, 1943. He was very scared because he had never seen the ocean before. He was assigned to be the loader of the 20-millimeter gun. His pay was $100 a month, unless they were fired on, in which case the crew would all receive a $125 bonus. If the ship were to sink, survivors would receive a $350 bonus. He earned over $3,000 for his longest cruise, which lasted for six months. Usually his shift was light, requiring he work for four hours and be off for eight. After a while, he learned to love the sea.
Leisure time on board was a luxury that was hard to come by. He spent part of it playing solitaire and making model airplanes. He became friends with Kerry Hunt, and they listened to much big band music together. When they were in Harlem, they would go to clubs and dances. Mr. Stinson was never wounded or in a land battle, but he was afraid of the Junker 88. His scariest mission was to Russia because if anyone fell overboard, he would die of hypothermia. When they received the news that the war was over, Mr. Stinson nearly danced off the ship. He and other Merchant Marines were not classified as servicemen during the war, but in the last ten years they were finally noticed as a true part of the military.
After the war was over, Mr. Stinson stayed in the Merchant Marines. He met a wonderful lady in Atlanta, and they married. When he was sent to the Korean War, she got mad and said that was the last time he would be making any runs. He left the service and settled in California, but in 1988 he made his permanent home in Georgia. He has been married for 57 years and has two boys and two girls. Mr. Stinson said that what he learned to do best during the war was to paint; there was always plenty of that to be done on board a ship. If he could have done anything differently, he says that she should have studied more on the ship for the purpose of going back to school. His advice to young people today is to do what we are told and learn all that we can.
Frank G. Lumpkin, Jr. Commands the 709th Tank Battalion in Europe Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007)
Thanks to his own outgoing personality and to his father’s vital involvement in Fort Benning, Frank Lumpkin, Jr. enjoyed having friends in high places. With such contacts, he could have had a different experience in World War II. Instead, he chose to fight a soldier’s war. Lumpkin first met Omar Bradley at the Columbus Country Club golf course in 1924 when Frank was seventeen. Noticing that Captain Bradley was playing alone, Frank asked him to join him. The two began playing together regularly, and Frank’s father took Bradley quail hunting. Frank Lumpkin, Sr. had been integrally involved in the establishment and expansion of Fort Benning and was a friend of George Patton when Patton commanded the Second Armored Division at Fort Benning just before WWII. Frank, Jr. who had graduated from the University of Georgia’s ROTC program with an officer’s commission after playing football there, was also assigned to the Second Armored Division at Benning. Leaving Benning in 1942, Frank, Jr. was promoted to the rank of major. As an officer in the 709th Tank Battalion, Lumpkin arrived in England in 1944. There he looked up his father’s friend George Patton, who, being a shutterbug, took a treasured photo of Lumpkin before they parted company (it is pictured above). They soon ran into each other again in Normandy, not long after the invasion. One day after encountering sniper fire on a simple mission, Major Lumpkin ordered his troops to shoot anything that moved. A colonel whose orders were to conserve ammunition decided to bring Lumpkin in to the Third Army Headquarters for an investigation of his impulsive ways. “Just about the time we got there, General Patton rode up in his jeep. Everybody snapped to attention, and he looked over and he spotted me and camp up and said, ‘Well, I be damned if it ain’t my friend Frank Lumpkin of Columbus, Georgia. Come on and have lunch with me.’” Lumpkin said, “I never laid eyes on the colonel again.” Patton asked Lumpkin to be his aide, but Frank told him he would rather stay with the troops. This decision may have actually saved his life, for Patton’s aide was soon killed in North Africa. Attached to the Eighth Infantry Division, Lumpkin earned a Bronze Star as he fought his way through Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, and the Ardennes-Alsace campaigns, then moved into Germany’s Huertgen Forest.
In this last battle, Lumpkin served under Major General R.O. “Tubby” Barton, another friend of Frank’s father. After the battle, Barton wrote Lumpkin, Sr., that he wished he could have fought the entire war with his son. “Having judged many men in and out of the stress of hard battle, my contact with him impressed me with his strength of character and gave me the greatest respect for him.” Barton especially respected the stand Lumpkin took against him when Frank stood up for the welfare of his company. “This took place in the presence of my staff and senior officers, which made it the more trying on him, a junior and strange officer. I admired him the more for he was battling for his own people, and I think much of the officer who puts the welfare of his troops ahead of his personal welfare.” Although Frank remained a reserve officer for some time after the war, he returned to Columbus, married Edith McBrayer, and joined his father’s insurance company. Late in life he delighted in the birth of his son Frank III and a daughter, Julia. Until he died in 2000, there was no more devoted fan of University of Georgia football than Frank Lumpkin, Jr.
Next week: We will share more stories of our local heroes from World War II. If you aren't already a member, we hope you will join us! I also want to encourage you to follow Historic Columbus on Facebook and Instagram for more posts on our community's history. Thank you all for your continued support of Historic Columbus! Elizabeth B. Walden Executive Director