PORT ANGELES — Jerry Koch’s first memory was when his mother told him his father was dead and was not coming home.
“My first memory is my mother leading me down the hall, into a bathroom, putting the lid down and standing me on that lid and she said, ‘Jerry, your father has been killed and he won’t be coming back,’ ” Koch told about 50 people at the Captain Joseph House Memorial Day service Sunday. “That was my introduction into this group.”
Koch’s father died June 16, 1945, during the battle of Okinawa, but it was nearly a month before Koch learned of his father’s death.
Learning of his father’s death wiped out any memory he had before then, he said.
“Even though I saw him holding me, I do not remember my dad holding me,” Koch said. “That was wiped out.
“The bottom line is the first lesson in life is dead is dead, but … not forgotten,” Koch said.
Koch was the guest speaker at the annual memorial service at Captain Joseph House.
The Dungeness Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol posted the colors, Amanda Bacon sang patriotic songs, the Mount Olympus Detachment of the Marine Corps League presented a rifle salute and taps, retired Coast Guardsman Ricky McKenzie played bag pipes and the Rev. Mike Lilley of the American Legion Riders offered the invocation and benediction.
Koch said that during his service he would send letters home and send things he came across during basic training, before battle and during battle.
Some of those are in a display case at Captain Joseph House, he said.
He said he hopes to work with Betsy Reed Schultz, founder of Captain Joseph House, when families stay at the home.
After her son’s death, Schultz formed a nonprofit foundation to convert her former Tudor Inn at 1108 S. Oak St. into a retreat for the families of fallen service members.
The Captain Joseph House, named in honor of the late Green Beret, aims to provide all-expenses-paid week-long respites for the families of service members who died while on active duty during wartime in the military since terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
“What I’m hoping I can do is work with Betsy and talk to some of these young kids that are in a hell hole right now and give them some hope for the future,” Koch said.
Schultz thanked those who attended the memorial service and those who continue to work on preparing the home for Gold Star families.
“That ‘thank you’ word seems small, but today I want you to know it’s packed with all the energy, all the appreciation and all the love I have for each of you who have been part of the Captain Joseph House journey since we began and broke ground June 2013,” she said.
Captain Joseph House is about remembering and not forgetting the fallen and not forgetting their families, she said.
“We thank the men and woman who have not only just served, but have paid and made the biggest sacrifice,” she said. “We owe a thank you to them, always. How we thank them is to never forget them.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].