SARANAC, Mich. -- Nearly 70 years later, a veteran from West Michigan was recognized for his service during World War II when he was formally presented his Bronze Star medal during a pinning ceremony on Monday.
The event was held just days after Roger Cochran and his wife Doris celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary.
“Unbelievable,” Retired 1st Sgt. Roger Cochrun told FOX 17. “It’s the highlight of my life.”
Cochrun is 88-years-old. He’s a father of two, a grandfather of four, and a great-grandfather of one.
According to Michael LaVean, the American Legion Post 175 historian, the Bronze Star is a significant medal, “a medal that you have to be in contact with the enemy,” LaVean explained. “You have to have done something your peers think is exemplary.”
Cochrun began as a rifleman, a replacement soldier in the 12th Armored Division. It was a group that was mauled by a Nazi SS corps.
“The Germans nicknamed them the ‘suicide division’ because they just basically just kept coming,” said LaVean. “They were fearless. In fact, the 44th Armored Battalion, that’s part of the 12th, lost every single tank.”
Cochrun’s particular infantry battalion suffered 90 percent casualties, but they had many heroic achievements.
“The 12th Armored Division liberated 11 concentration camps in 11 days, including one fully-loaded train of people that were going be shipped to another extermination camp,” LaVean said. “If they had been there 15 minutes later, that train would have left.”
Cochrun’s battalion saw heavy combat. At times, they were even caught in the middle of the allied warplanes’ efforts to soften Nazi defenses.
“I could see the tracers coming across the field, and I and another fellow were digging a foxhole,” Cochrun explained. “He was a big fella. He could get in the bottom. I could get on top of him. I was still sticking out. His name was Cooley. I says, “Cooley, this is it. This is the end.’”
It was days like those that took their toll on Cochrun during the war.
“My body could’ve stood more war,” Cochrun said. “I had very little compared to some. But my mind, I don’t think you can go through that, wondering if you’re going to be there the next day.”