George J. Koch Sr.
George J. Koch, Sr., 87, of Frederick, Pennsylvania, was born on December 28, 1919 in Enhaut, Pennsylvania, and entered into eternal rest on September 30, 2007.
His story seems almost stereotypical – the son of immigrant parents, he fondly remembered a hardscrabble childhood and his hardworking parents. He was the youngest of four boys (two sisters died at young ages). His father died in 1924 and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown shortly thereafter.
In 1928, he followed his older brother Toby to Girard College – a school for fatherless boys in Philadelphia. It was here that he received his first taste of the military when he became a captain in the Cadet Corps his senior year. After graduation in 1937, he enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard. This eventually led to him enlisting in the regular Army the following year.
In 1941, as a newly promoted Sergeant, he found himself stationed in the 3rd Cavalry at Fort Myer, Virginia. From April to July of that year, he was selected to be the Sergeant of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
He traded in his horse as a member of the 1st Infantry Division’s mechanized cavalry unit. He was the section leader for the 1st Reconnaissance Troop. It was in service with this unit that found him taking part in Operation Torch – the invasion of North Africa. While fighting across North Africa in pursuit of Rommel’s Afrika Korps, he was severely wounded by an anti-personnel mine (a “bouncing Betty”) and found himself in a hospital in Oran. Wanting to get back to his unit, he left the hospital without permission and rejoined his unit shortly before the Invasion of Sicily. It was here that he received a shrapnel wound that “knocked him out of the war”.
He was sent stateside to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he met 1LT Helen Adams, who was the head nurse in the Chest Surgery Ward. The two fell in love and 2LT George Koch (he had received a battlefield commission in January 1944) proposed to her on Valentine’s Day and were married shortly thereafter. He was discharged from the service in 1945 and worked as an insurance salesman in Philadelphia. He eventually used his G.I. Bill to attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, while working as an independent insurance salesman. He officially retired in 1989. He devoted much of his retirement years tracking down surviving members of the 1st Recon and remembering those that didn’t make it home.
An excerpt from George’s autobiography, First to Warn, sums up his love of country and duty to remember his comrades:
“I have never felt that I have done anything exceptional, and if someone thinks I have done something special, it is only because I have always had a very strong love of country and what our great nation stands for. My heart swells with pride every time I hear our national anthem properly played and sung, and it is hard for me to stomach the nonchalant way in which many people regard the rendering of our anthem. When the flag passes by and bystanders ignore it, I cringe. Yes, I even have tears in my eyes when I visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, and I think of my comrades who paid the supreme sacrifice in World War II. I am proud to be an American…”
He was preceded in death by his wife Helen, who passed away in 1994 after fifty years of marriage. He was survived by his second wife, Elaine, whom he married in 2001; and children Anne, George Jr., and Karl.
He was laid to rest in the New London Presbyterian Church Cemetery, New London, Pennsylvania.