Columnist shares stories of his hero, Chester Koch

Published:

Veterans Beat

by Ron Seman

Everyone has a hero. My hero is Chester J. Koch, known affectionately as "Chester" by a legion of fans everywhere.

I first became acquainted with Chester, who is now deceased, in 1972 when I was writing proclamations and responding to letters addressed to Cleveland Mayor Ralph J. Perk.

Friends in the veterans movement told me that I made a serious mistake when I told him I was a veteran. I soon became a part of his team in performing volunteer duties on behalf of veterans in Cleveland and throughout the state. After all, he was the City Coordinator of Patriotic Activities, a service he admirably performed for more than 15 mayors. And by the way, I was always impressed when he telephoned one of the corporate leaders whose secretary put his call through without hesitation. Usually, Chester was after some money to fund a favorite veterans program.

Chester had friends in high places. He contacted his close friend, Newton D. Baker, the secretary of war, who made arrangements for him to join the Army where he served as a mess sergeant of the 308th Motor Supply Train, 83rd Division , during World War I, in France.

He did not miss a Cleveland parade marking a patriotic observance for decades, starting in 1933, and was marshal and organizer for most of them.

He maintained so much respect for the flag of his country and was interest in its proper display that he once took on the U.S. Air Force in 1961. He protested placing the flag emblem at the rear of the jet used by President Kennedy. On another occasion, he telephoned the White House to correct the flag position during a President Nixon telecast. His love of flag and country earned him the title of "Mr. Veteran."

In his job, Chester personally shook hands with some 450,000 area men and women he saw off to the wars. He made preparations for more than 1,000 military burials and was always available on a 24 hours basis to resolve the problems of traveling service personnel, veterans and their families.

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