October 21, 2014

Elyria
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Korean War veteran Conrad Zech named VFW Veteran of the Year

Conrad Zech, a Korean War veteran, center, is honored as Veteran of the Year at Thomas Mihalis Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1079 in Elyria on Monday. Post Commander David Root, left, presents Zech his award. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Conrad Zech, a Korean War veteran, center, is honored as Veteran of the Year at Thomas Mihalis Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1079 in Elyria on Monday. Post Commander David Root, left, presents Zech his award. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — Wilma Zech remembers a feeling of jubilation in July 1953 when she heard on a car radio that a truce had been signed ending the Korean War.

Zech’s then-fiance, Conrad Zech, was in the Army on a ship headed for Korea when the word came.

“I was sitting on the hood of a car and I lost my shoe,” said Wilma Zech, 78. “We were riding around the town yelling and screaming.”

Zech’s recollection came Monday after Conrad Zech was named Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1079 Veteran of the Year. About 75 post members and their families attended the annual Veterans Day awards ceremony and dinner at the post at 500 S. Abbe Road.

Even though he arrived in South Korea after the truce, Zech, a member of the 540th Transportation Truck Co., almost died there in 1954. He contracted hemorrhagic fever, an infectious disease that causes internal bleeding, from guarding North Korean prisoners, according to his family.

Linda Zech Husk, Zech’s daughter, said her father recalls riding on the outside of a helicopter to a hospital in Seoul after being treated at a mobile army surgical hospital.

Zech spent nearly a month on a liquid diet and some of the soldiers in his unit died. His first solid meal was on Thanksgiving Day, 1954.

After his discharge, Conrad and Wilma married in 1955. The Zechs have four sons, a daughter and four grandsons, some of whom were in attendance Monday.

Zech was a deliveryman, milkman, cement truck driver and correctional officer before retiring in 1994. Now 80, he joined the post in 1973 and was active in community outreach until suffering a stroke in 2010, according to David Root, post commander.

Zech served as a committee chairman for several initiatives including working with Boy Scouts of America Troop 122 in Elyria, local Little Leagues and high school marching bands, “He was always making sure that we were very active in the community,” said Root, who met Zech in 1998.

In addition to honoring a post veteran, the ceremony honors all veterans and active military personel and their families. The 1.3 million service members comprise just 0.4 percent of the nation’s 315 million people, but their contribution is outsized, Root said.

He said the national VFW has lobbied for more money to treat veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

Root said the money must be found and any words of tribute to returning veterans ring hollow if they don’t get adequate health care.

“We can’t give up the fight and throw in the towel because our veterans never have,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.