Connecticut Veteran Teaches Students About World War II and the Importance of Kindness

Nov 9, 2015

"What I had witnessed was something in my chest I couldn't get it off."
Ben Cooper

In the days leading up to Veterans Day, WNPR is highlighting stories from veterans and those in their communities.

Ben Cooper lives in Colchester and was a combat medic in World War II.

"So I got assigned to what was known as the 45th Infantry Division 'til the end of the war," Cooper said. "It's not like you say, hey, I don’t think I want to do this. I want to go home. You’re there for a purpose, and you just do what you have to do.

"We had no idea that there was a concentration camp called Dachau. The commander from our from the 45th infantry division got orders to secure a camp. The guards were shooting at our soldiers. They had to fight their way in. They overcame the guards. They go through the gates, and what they saw was unreal.

"After the war, there were no counselors. We didn’t have any counselor if we had any problems whatever. We were let loose. Once you got your discharge, you were free to go. I had my duffel bag with me, and I came home.

Ben Cooper is a World War II veteran who served with the U.S. Army's 45th Infantry Division.
Ben Cooper with items from World War II. He served in the 45th Infantry Division in the U.S. Army.
Credit Victor Suwatcharapinun / CPBN

"But what I didn’t realize: what I had witnessed was something in my chest I couldn’t get it off. By the way, I never told my wife, my children, or my parents about what I witnessed. It wasn’t 'til 1990 when a teacher from Torrington called me up. From that time, I got in touch with schools, and have been speaking to schools since. It’s been a healing process for us. We never get over it, but it does heal in some way."