Behind the Lines
Posted on November 24, 2014 by Taylor Rhea
Whether behind enemy lines or writing lines for the Associated Press, Atria Merrimack Place resident, Jim Koch, shares his journey during WWII and his postwar success as an AP journalist and Director of Public Affairs at GTE.
At the height of World War II, I enlisted in the Navy, immediately after graduating from high school in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. I was sent to boot camp in Newport, Rhode Island where, by alphabetical order, I was assigned to a construction battalion even though I couldn’t drive a nail straight.
After stops in Joliet, Illinois and Port Hueneme, California, I went by transport ship to Guam, then on to the midpoint of the island of Okinawa. I was assigned to the 146th Seabee Battalion, which had just completed a mission in North Africa and required reinforcements.
At the time, American forces were being built up considerably in preparation for an invasion of Japan. Then, the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It felt like the A-bombs saved my life because, without them, I would have been part of the forces to invade Japan.
After the war was over, I remained on Okinawa because I lacked the points (no wife and children) to come home. During my two-year stint there, barely 19 years old, Seaman Second Class, I was placed in charge of a huge salvage yard. I had 400 Okinawans under my control as well as a staff of six Americans. As the American forces departed, they turned over their equipment to the Okinawans and much of it was stored in the salvage yard.
Upon returning to the States, I spent a year at Keystone Junior College in La Plume, Pennsylvania, under the G.I. bill before transferring to the Syracuse University School of Journalism. Upon graduating with degrees in journalism and history, I worked as a reporter at newspapers in Massena and Rome, New York, before joining The Associated Press in Albany. After one year in Albany, I was promoted to AP correspondent in Syracuse, covering state news.
I really enjoyed sports when I was a Syracuse reporter. We filed stories by Morse code. In 1959, Syracuse won the National Football Championship and I covered the Orangemen when they defeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Boxing was also a big deal in Syracuse. I had ringside seats for the matches. Football also gave me two seats in the press box so I could bring a friend, usually my landlord. He was a happy camper.
Eventually, the AP moved me to the general desk in New York City and I was an Assistant City Editor, in line to be City Editor. Unfortunately, the AP did not pay well so I entered the corporate world as director of the news bureau at the American Stock Exchange in Manhattan. After just one year – it’s a long story – I joined General Telephone and Electronics at its headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, and then went on to work in GTE’s Washington D.C. office.
There, I was the “money man” – running the corporation’s political action committee. As director of public affairs, I also had access to corporate funds for contributions to charitable causes. After more than 20 years at GTE, I retired at age 69. I continued working in the field of public relations at three trade associations before retiring for good at age 70.
Now, I’m 88 with an ex-wife (still a friend after 38 years of marriage) and three grown sons – Richard, 59, Peter, 54 and Robert, 50. I’m also a proud grandfather to David, a recent graduate of Texas A&M with a $70,000-plus-a-year job working in the oil industry; my granddaughter, Noelle, who attends the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on a full scholarship, and my other granddaughter, Gabrielle, a senior at Peabody High School.
The secret to my success was my writing skills, which led me to several interesting jobs. Now, much of the nation’s attention is focused on television and the Internet, but I still love the newspaper business. In my day, writing meant pounding away on a manual typewriter. But really, it was the key to my well-being.
– Jim Koch, Atria Merrimack Place