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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Kane'ohe unit's loss is 16th in month

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Marine Cpl. Michael R. Cohen hadn't called or e-mailed for several weeks from Fallujah, Iraq, and his family was treading on eggshells with each day's news.

With nearly two weeks of steady fighting winding down, though, there was optimism.

"We thought the worst is over, pretty soon maybe he'll be out of there, maybe we'll hear from him," said the Hawai'i Marine's father, Dr. David Cohen. "We hadn't heard from him because he was in the thick of things, I guess."

Instead, on Monday, the Pennsylvania family got the worst possible news.

A Marine major and first sergeant showed up at about 5 p.m. in Cohen's hometown of Jacobus, Pa., a York suburb of about 5,000 people. The fallen Marine's 20-year-old sister answered the door.

"They were very, very kind and very sensitive," David Cohen said yesterday, trying to keep his emotions in check.

His 23-year-old son died Monday when the corporal was hit by small-arms fire during combat operations in or near Fallujah, he was told.

On Friday, Lt. Gen. Lance Smith said during an operational update on Iraq that the assault on Fallujah was swift and went largely as planned.

"I wouldn't say that we are in mopping-up operations; that sounds like nothing's going on," Smith said. "There's some intense fighting still going on in some pockets of Fallujah and we will continue until those pockets are gone."

Cohen's death adds to the loss of Marines and sailors from the Hawai'i-based 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment — 16 dead in just more than a month in Iraq — and leaves one more family struggling with their grief.

"He was a wonderful person. I don't know how we're going to go on without him," said David Cohen.

A Corps representative will meet with the family today to provide more details about the death. Cohen's body is expected to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in the next couple of days. A memorial service will be held, but the shock of the moment hasn't even passed.

"At this point, we haven't been able to make those arrangements," David Cohen said.

The Pennsylvania man yesterday struggled between pride in his son's Marine Corps service and the realization that he was gone.

"As things were going on over there, I was extremely proud he had decided to be part of it, and to put his life at risk for that," said his father by phone.

Michael Cohen enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 2002 and attended infantry school at Camp Lejeune, N.C., from April until June 2002. This past June, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, at Kane'ohe Bay.

The quiet man and accomplished scuba diver, who went with his father on dive trips to Cozumel in Mexico, Bonaire in the Caribbean, and off the North Carolina coast, talked to the Air Force, Army and Marines before settling on the Corps.

He had talked for several years about military service. Joining the Marine Corps was a choice he was happy he made.

"He liked it. He even liked boot camp," said David Cohen. "He didn't find boot camp was a challenge at all because he trained for it for six months."

He liked combat infantry training and what he was doing.

"His only gripe — he was back here in April last year for my daughter's wedding — and his only complaint was that, at that point, he had not seen combat and he had not gotten to actually do what he'd been trained to do," his father said.

But his father also remembers his son's soft-heartedness and love for animals.

"We've always had dogs, and he was the kind of guy who'd go into his room at night and our Lab would climb up in his bed and sleep with him."

About three weeks ago, the family received the last of Cohen's e-mails and phone calls.

"He told us that he couldn't tell us exactly where he was going or what he'd be doing," said his father, "but that he knew what he'd been training for now for the past year. He gave us his unit number and told us to just watch for the news and it would be obvious what he was involved in. He said he and his comrades would do everything possible to come back safe."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.