Fallen soldier gets service after 67 years

Published 3:46 pm Friday, May 27, 2011

Walter Cobern died after his plane went down over a Florida river in 1944. He will be remembered Saturday in a service at the National Cemetery in Montevallo.

There’s an old proverb that states that good things come to those who wait.

For one local family, it meant waiting 67 years.

In September of 1944, a young man from Maplesville named Walter Cobern was on a training mission in Florida, preparing for overseas combat. He had just finished Navy flight school a month before. He was the pride of his hometown and was doing what his country asked of him.

Sadly, he never returned from the flight.

The plane went down in the Banana River, and despite their best efforts, the Navy never found his body or the plane. They sent a list of his personal items and a letter from the president to his family, but because of circumstances, there was no funeral, no ceremony, nothing to pay tribute to him.

Until now.

A memorial service will be held for Walter Cobern on Saturday at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo, thanks to an effort by his family and the National Cemetery itself.

Martha Spina, Cobern’s niece, and her husband Paul found out about the opportunity to pay him his final respects through a chance happening.

“We came upon some people who were in charge of the National Cemetery at a Veteran’s Day celebration,” she said. “We kind of forgot about it, but then my mother (Elizabeth Hayes, Cobern’s sister) kind of got to talking about it. I think she really got my husband interested in investigating [a memorial service].”

From there, Paul Spina began to research what he could do about a service.

“It’s a slow process,” he said. “Fortunately, my mother-in-law saved all the letters. She and I talked about it before, and she always talked about how it would be real special to do something like this. She talks about him from time to time, about what a fine young man he was and how he never received anything.”

Once he had all the letters and available information, Spina contacted the National Cemetery.

“It was always in the back of my head,” he said. “I was never going to do anything until we ran across the people from the National Cemetery.”

Those involved with the cemetery then contacted the Naval Headquarters in Virginia. Arrangements were made to have a full, official military service.

“He’ll have a full military funeral,” Mr. Spina said. “They’re bringing in a group from Virginia, it’s going to be really special for [my mother-in-law]. They’ll present her with a flag, and they’ll play Taps. They’ll have a table set up with his picture and some of his medals, too.”

Cobern’s name will be inscribed upon a wall that the cemetery has for veterans who never made it home. In addition to getting a deserved memorial service for their loved one, the family of Walter Cobern will get something else they have been missing for the last 67 years: closure.

“I’m so pleased to be able to do this for my mother,” Mrs. Spina said. “At 92, she’s had a great life and is still having a great life, but this is going to be really special for her. I can’t tell [Paul] how proud of him I am for doing this.”

“It’s going to be special for [Walter] too,” said Mr. Spina “He’s deserved it.”