EDITORIAL: Ken Hechler Stories Always Amuse...and Teach

HNN Staff
Ken Hechler
Ken Hechler

Ken Hechler has had many titles in his 97 years:  Major, Professor, Congressman, Secretary of State.  

But perhaps "Author" is how he will be best known in the future, as he has rattled off several memorable books including his latest, Goering and His Gang, about Hitler's Deputy Fuhrer and Luftwaffe Commander, Hermann Goering.

As a combat historian at the end of World War II, young Major Ken Hechler got the rare opportunity to interview members of the Nazi High Command like Goering.  While they awaited their trial for war crimes, Hechler was dispatched to gather as much information from them for the official combat history of the war.    

Hechler will talk about those experiences and more tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., April 3, at West Virginia State College, 122 Wallace Hall.  This will be as close as a young person can get to touching World War II, as Hechler is a living piece of history himself.

Hechler served eighteen years as Congressman, followed by sixteen years as West Virginia's Secretary of State.  While Hechler has always had a decidedly liberal point of view, he was also known for his ability to surprise friends and foes alike with an independent streak.  For example, while he was an ardent New Deal Democrat, he was consistently pro-life.  

And while he revels in being the only Congressman to walk with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the famous March on Selma, Hechler has always stressed that he is for "fairness for all, special rights for none."

Moreover, a more fervent fan than Hechler of union organizer Mother Jones would be hard to find.  But in the modern age, Congressman Hechler didn't always get along with the union bosses.  Hechler was a gadfly to just about anyone who had power.  If they crossed him, he was prepared to make them pay for it.

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For example, shortly before Bob Wise became Governor in January 2001, Hechler and some of his friends had gotten roughed up unnecessarily at a commemoration of the Battle of Matewan in Mingo County. Hechler was already in his mid-80s and obviously didn't like being kicked during what was, by all accounts, a very peaceable march.  

One of Logan County's public officials was involved in the fracas, and Hechler was floored when it was announced that newly-elected Governor Wise would have this "gentleman" working for his administration.

Hechler, ever the showman, had a big sign prepared that said:  "KICK ME AND GET A JOB WITH BOB WISE!"   He held it high during Wise's inaugural proceedings, and it got great coverage during the television news accounts of the Governor's big day.  Hechler might have been kicked in the shin down in Mingo, but he kicked Bob Wise somewhere else that day.

Stories like this involving Ken Hechler abound because he came from a generation where politicians could show their individuality, could express themselves when they felt they had to say something.  In short, the only script Hechler followed was the one he made up himself.  A master at injecting himself into the media spotlight at just the right time, Hechler didn't constantly search for the TV camera to say bland generalities like so many top officials today.

He only came to us when he had something really good.  And his reward was hearing our cheers or laughter.

After all, a really good politician is a vaudeville act with a side of public policy.  We need more personalities like Ken Hechler in our politics.  Hechler understands very well the notion first crystallized by the Canadian social philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who noted:  "Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn't know the first thing about either."

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