In October 2005, Fayette Woman proudly featured Helen Kogel Denton, a retired veteran of World War II, who has a special place in American history. In June of 1944, Ms. Denton—then known as Corporal Kogel— worked for General Dwight D. Eisenhower, typing battle plans for D-Day, the United States Army’s invasion of Normandy, France. Her contributions to our country and her significant role in history earned her the Gold Medal of Merit, which was presented to her by President Obama at the VFW National Convention last August.Recently, Fayette Woman caught up with the local veteran about volunteerism, patriotism, and meeting the President.
This fall, you attended the 109th VFW National Convention in Phoenix and received the Gold Medal of Merit for your lifetime of volunteer work. Tell us about this experience.
Before I left for Arizona, I received a call requesting my social security number so I could be cleared by the FBI, because President Obama was one of the speakers. Two Georgia State Patrolmen were assigned to escort me into the conference center, which I was glad to have because 100 or so protesters stood outside the building because of the President’s participation. I got to meet him and he was very charismatic and attentive. He looked down at me (because he is tall) and said “Ms. Denton, I know all about you.” And I said, “Mr. President, I know all about you, too!” During his speech, President Obama recognized several officials and then said, “This isn’t planned, but I’d also like to thank Ms. Denton.” When the nearly 3,000 veterans stood up and clapped—it was just wonderful.
Did a lot of women attend the conference?
No, surprisingly, women are still very much a minority at events like these. However, I did attend a breakfast just for the women veterans. I think I was the first woman to receive the award.
Tell us about your volunteer work.
I still do a lot of volunteer work through my local VFW, Post 3650 in Riverdale. I really enjoy working with the school children, telling them about my war experience and answering their questions. During one visit to a second grade class, one little girl was clearly struggling with a question she wanted to ask me. Finally, she said, “Were you ever scared?” and I said, “Oh, yes, there were many times I was scared, especially because the bombs are really loud.” I also talk a lot about patriotism and encouraging children to respect their elders and always do their best at whatever they are doing.
Before that I was the secretary for the John Wood West Foundation. We sent 10 kids to college. I have always been proud of that work. I have been active with the Delta Pioneers (an organization of retired Delta employees). We raise money for United Way, The March of Dimes and many others. I really started volunteering when I got married and moved to Jonesboro with my husband. I didn’t know anyone in the community, so I got involved in helping to build a library, encouraging the use of car seatbelts and the construction of a youth center. I grew up on a farm in South Dakota and I learned from a young age to help your neighbors. That stays with you.
Do you think patriotism is different now than it was in the 1940s?
Yes, I think so. During the war, everyone was part of it. It’s just different now. Back then, everyone had to help underwrite the cost of the war, build airplanes and boats. My dad had to grow more food on his farm and others had to bake more bread. I always thought that the people at home had to sacrifice much more to support the war efforts than I had to.