Writer describes patriot's support for veterans

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Editor's note: This is the full version of a column that appeared Nov. 7. The second half of the column was not included in the previous version. 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 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 and under more than 15 mayors. And by the way, I was always impressed when in his office he telephoned a corporate leader 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 for the 308th Motor Supply Train, 83rd Division , during World War I, in France. He had not missed a Cleveland parade marking a patriotic observance since 1933, and was marshal and organizer for most of them. And his frequent visits to the Brecksville and Wade Park VA hospitals are legend. He maintained so much respect for the Flag of his country and interest in its proper display that he 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 one of President Nixon's telecasts. His love of Flag and Country earned him the title of "Mr. Veteran." In 1941, Chester personally shook hands with some 450,000 area men and women he saw off to the wars at the train station in downtown Cleveland. He comforted the frightened and nervous youngsters. And once, he gave his personal wrist watch to a forgetful recruit. He often rode the train with them to the processing center in Indiana. And he continued this practice for inductees going off to the Korean and Vietnam wars. Those who witnessed Chester, out front, marching with a group of recruits and a high school band, will find it difficult to dismiss this memory. Chester made preparations for more than 1,000 military burials and was always available on a 24 hour basis to resolve the problems of traveling service personnel, veterans and their families. During my 18-year association with Chester, I became his unofficial volunteer driver. We attended countless meetings and conventions of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Army and Navy Union -- some 28 veterans and patriotic groups in all. I am amused to this day about how Chester manipulated me. The conversation usually went like this: "I'm attending a VFW dinner Saturday night and would like you to be my guest." When I agreed to go, this required me to pick him up at his home, take him to the dinner, and then back home. It took this recruit a while to figure out this clever maneuver. A religious man, Chester was active in the Catholic War Veterans and served in many of the local and national offices. He told me once, everything I have in God's world, I give to the veteran." Dare I not mention the VFW, which he was intimately associated with locally, on the state level, and serving as a member of national committees in Washington, D.C. His input on veterans issues was always requested and gratefully accepted with the utmost admiration. Hundreds of articles have been written about Chester's dedication to veterans. There is a story about a writer with the Saturday Evening Post who came to Cleveland to interview him about his fascinating activities. No story was written. The reporter respectfully listened, then remarked that his work was so extraordinary, no one would believe what Chester had accomplished. Needless to say, he was the recipient of a multitude of awards and honors for his work. As his faithful associate, I knew that I was in the company of a great and special man -- a great American -- whose single mission in life was to uplift, inspire and serve veterans in any and every way he could. Chester died in 1989 at the age of 97. I was privileged to know him, and in my humble way, attempt to imitate the remarkable achievements he made on behalf of his beloved veterans. God bless you, Chester. We'll remember you at the Veterans' Day proceedings.

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