A former Commanding Officer of mine (and now a close friend) sent me a copy of an article from the Coronado Eagle, dated April 1995. It brought back memories of a Purple Heart ceremony that touched everyone in the command who witnessed it.
Bernie Cohenour was a quiet, unassuming Lieutenant Commander who was often activated from his reserve unit for major fleet exercises. None of us knew who he really was, at least not until April of 1995.
On that special day the command was turned out to see Bernie receive a Purple Heart. He had waited 26 years to have it handed it him.
Our Commanding Officer, CAPT Bob Clark, heard that he had not received the medal and worked through a quarter century of bureaucracy to find it. It took two years.
When the Bernie received the medal, he told the command the story behind it. In 1969 he was a Navy Corpsman operating with the Marines in a Combined Action Platoon at My Lai a year after the massacre. A group of children stepped on a land mine and Cohenour and some Marines ran toward the scene and called for evacuation for the wounded children.
As the helicopter approached, one of the Marines kneeled down and triggered another mine. Two of the Marines and all but one of the children were killed. Cohenour and another Marine were injured in the blast; Bernie was temporarily blinded, sustained ruptured ear drums, and suffered several lacerations from shrapnel. He was evacuated and returned to the United States where he was eventually discharged.
After going back to school, he joined the Naval Reserve as an Oceanographer, and continued serving. (He only recently retired after being in uniform for 41 years, five of which were on active duty.)
Bernie Cohenour, the humble, shy officer we had worked with for years – would be forever changed in our eyes. He accepted his medal quietly, without fanfare, and went back to work.
The quiet hero.