The sky above Islandia turns gray one recent Tuesday afternoon as 91-year-old Julius Cobb saunters over to an umbrella-covered table that will protect him from the oncoming barrage of rain. Seventy years ago, Cobb, a World War II veteran with the then-U.S. Army Air Corps, was darting across the skies above Europe, dropping bombs on the Axis powers with remarkable precision. “I never missed,” Cobb laughs during a Memorial Day barbeque at The Arbors Assisted Living, the smell of hot dogs and burgers wafting through the air. Cobb is outfitted in a tan military uniform with his Air Corps wings pinned proudly above his heart and a U.S. Air Force cap resting snugly upon his head. Cobb, who had a love for planes ever since he was a child in Massapequa, enlisted in 1942 and served for three years, completing 37 missions. As a youngster, he would visit Republic Airport in Farmingdale and volunteer to clean the planes if the pilots would take him into the sky. He says his favorite memory is meeting and marrying his wife, who passed away two years ago, his eyes brightening with every mention of her. He loves the old days. “We got a bang out of it,” he says of the war.
THE CHAPLAIN’S ASSISTANT
Margaret “Peg” Kramer was disappointed. She had enlisted in the Air Corps in 1943, hoping to learn to fly and serve her country. But while training in Massachusetts, her captain called her over and told her she would be the new Catholic Chaplain Assistant, instead. “I said, ‘Oh, no!’” recalls Kramer after a rendition of “God Bless America” at The Arbors. She was first smitten with the metallic birds while living in Throgs Neck, she says, watching as they hummed brilliantly across the sky. Yet Kramer, sporting a straw hat with red, white and blue bands during this interview, learned to love her new gig, too, and after learning of it, hopped a train and zig-zagged across the country on a five-day trip ending in Pueblo, Colo. The first thing she did was “take a bath,” she remembers with a laugh. Kramer quickly became best friends with a woman named Susie Lawrence, who one of her sons is named after. The group on the base then cozied up to the Chaplain, who once a grump later learned to lighten up following days and nights filled with laughter and hijinks. Kramer, whose father served in World War I, has another reason for signing up during such a tumultuous time: “I think it was the movies,” she laughs.
Jeff Clyman had his own model globe as a child and a propensity for picking out capitals of distant countries. There was no Google Maps back then. “You have a de-emphasis of history,” he says now of the country’s educational system. That’s one of the reasons why Clyman, the founder of the American Air Power Museum in Farmingdale, started up the nonprofit in 1993 and to “introduce the concept of service.” Both his father and uncle were pilots in World War II and his son currently flies an F-16. One of the first historic planes Clyman donated to the museum was a B-25 Mitchell Bomber he discovered in Texas. Clyman gathered up a few more planes and some volunteers to start the museum. Now it boasts several exhibits, including one called the “Living History Experience,” which puts guests inside a C-47 transport plane so they can reenact a mission from June 5, 1944—the night before D-Day. When they return, guests pick a note out of their pocket revealing whether the real-life vet they’re portraying survived. Many did not. “It gives a sense of mortality and a sense of service,” says Clyman.
THE DREAM CATCHER
The unquenching desire to aid aging World War II veterans is burned into Chris Cosich’s very soul. The 46-year-old Amagansett man with a Hamptons-based personal training business, New Image Fitness, comes from a proud bloodline of war veterans replete with battle tales. “I grew up amongst all these stories,” he says. In 2007, Cosich decided to reach out to Honor Flight, the group that gives free flights to the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. to veterans who haven’t made the trip, hoping to startup a local chapter. Six years later Honor Flight Long Island is thriving—but the organization is facing a shortage—not in cash, but in vets. It’s also difficult at times to get the word out, so Cosich is relying on the children of these aging heroes to spread the message. “There’s going to be a big hole in my life,” when the WWII vets’ trips end, he says. “It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done.” Cosich has been on all 32 flights since he started the group. Soon, the 1,000th vet will buckle up for the flight to D.C. “The tears start the moment you get off the plane,” he says.