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Remembering the remarkable life of David Cohen

David Cohen’s ability to help homeless veterans get jobs was unrivaled.

David was a specialist with the Southwest Solutions Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) . His office was at Piquette Square. Through this work and other past efforts, he connected hundreds of veterans with job opportunities, educational resources and other services they need to rebuild their lives.

David Cohen speaks at an event at Piquette Square in February 2012

“David knew what it was like to serve your country and then lose your way,” said Cherrard Cohen, David’s brother. “But he felt passionately that if he could change his life, then anybody could. Anytime he saw a veteran in distress, he felt a responsibility to help.”

David was a decorated combat veteran who served in Desert Storm. He was an exceptional athlete who played professional basketball abroad. He had an agile mind and ardent heart. Despite the post-traumatic nightmares that still disturbed his sleep, and despite the profound heartbreak that once expelled him to the streets, there was a lightness in his bearing. He teased and laughed easily, and his smile animated his whole being.

At veteran-related events, as the Color Guard began, David’s face and demeanor became deeply reverent, and his eyes would lower, recalling the courage and sacrifice of his brothers in arms and fallen friends. In this moment, one clearly understood that David’s loyalty to veterans and country was transcendent.

David passed away of an apparent heart attack over the Memorial Day weekend. He was 45.

David’s sudden death shocked family, friends, colleagues and clients. He was known as a resilient survivor, and his heart was so resolute, it seemed impossible that it could fail.

Sitting in David’s living room where he had died just a few days before, David’s mother reminisced.

“As a little boy, David thought he was Superman, cape and all, and believed he could fly,” Ernestine recalled. “Once he even leaped off our second floor balcony. He landed in the hedges, had a few scrapes and scratches, but still was not afraid.”

David was born in Detroit on Valentine’s Day, 1967. He was an outstanding student, and excelled at math. He was also a star athlete, especially at basketball, and was offered scholarships to play in college. Instead, he decided to join the Army, following in the military tradition of his father and grandfather.

David was awarded many honors for his service and going beyond the call of duty. In Desert Storm, he witnessed gruesome scenes that would torment his gentle soul thereafter.

After leaving the military in 1995, David went through a difficult divorce and experienced severe depression and alcohol abuse. He lost nearly everything, and was living in his car when he entered the Veterans Independence program at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. He immediately volunteered to connect homeless veterans with job prospects and other resources. Even after moving on, David continued to help the veterans at the Mission.

“In the history of the Mission, no one has placed more veterans in jobs than David,” said Willie White, who heads the program there. “He set the bar so high that it will never be surpassed.”

David was able to engage and motivate veterans because of a shared bond, but he also never accepted excuses and insisted on personal responsibility, dignity and duty. He was a tireless worker, working two jobs while completing his undergraduate degree earlier this year.

David bought a home last August in the same northeast Detroit neighborhood  where his mother and some of his siblings live. Around the  neighborhood, children and youth affectionately called him “Uncle Dave”  for the time he devoted to playing sports with them and encouraging them  to do well in school.

“David loved Detroit and felt it was part of his flesh and blood,” his mother said. “He also felt strongly it would turn around, just as he turned around his own life.”

In March, David was honored by the Veterans’ Services Division of the Michigan Workforce Development Agency. He received a special “challenge coin” for his exemplary work. It was the fifth challenge coin David had received in his military and post-military career.

“David and his contributions will be sorely missed,” said Tim Thorland, executive director of Southwest Housing Solutions. “We feel privileged as an organization for time he spent with us.”

David is survived by two daughters, six siblings, and his parents.

Services for David were held Wednesday, June 6 at the Clora Funeral Home.The chapel overflowed. David is laid to rest at the Great Lakes National Cemetery near Holly, a place for veterans.

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