By Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris
Joint Area Support Group-Central Public Affairs
Soldiers typically carry an abundance of Army-issued gear. Firearms, canteens, radios and rations help troops survive in the harshest conditions. Master Sgt. Richard A. Koch, however, carries something even greater – a legacy of selfless service that dates back three generations.
"It's a part of history," said Koch as he pointed to the diary and Bible that once belonged to his grandfather, a doughboy who fought in Europe during World War I, and his father, who sailed the seas as a Merchant Marine in World War II.
"It's the closest thing I have to them right now," he added.
Koch, a New Jersey Army National Guard Soldier with the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team who is currently deployed to Baghdad's International Zone as fleet vehicle manager for the Joint Area Support Group-Central, is carrying on a tradition of military service that began when his grandfather arrived at Camp Dix in 1918.
Floyd Peter Koch – known as "Pappap" to his grandson – spent nearly three months training at the newly formed camp before deploying to Europe with a machine gun company in the 78th Division's 309th Infantry Regiment. Floyd returned to the United States in December 1918 after receiving shrapnel wounds in the Battle of St. Mihiel in France three months earlier. He was honorably discharged from the Army at Dix in January 1919 and returned to civilian life as a mechanical-drawing teacher in Phillipsburg, where he lived until his death at age 64.
During his tour of service, Floyd kept a diary filled with detailed accounts of his experiences. This and his Bible were handed down to his son, Charles Floyd Koch, when the latter joined the U.S. Merchant Marine in May 1945. He served as a boiler tender on the Liberty Ship SS James Ford Rhodes until January 1947, taking his father's tradition of service – and his Book of Scriptures – across the globe.
"That Bible has been to Liverpool, England, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, Japan, Germany, and also was in Egypt," explained Koch.
The well-travelled tome continued its journey when Koch received it from his dad upon entering basic training in 1972.
"After my dad gave it to me, that Bible went wherever I went. It went to Fort Polk, La. It went to Fort Sill, Okla.; Boise, Idaho; Camp Shelby; Fort Drum; Fort Bliss; Kuwait. It finally ended up in Iraq," Koch explained. "That Bible's been around the world."
Koch has had many experiences during his 36 years in the National Guard - including an ongoing 32-year stint as the full-time shop chief at New Jersey's Picatinny Arsenal – but his current sojourn in Iraq marks his first deployment.
To Koch's disappointment, he won't get to share this experience with his dad – Charles died in February 2008 at the age of 81.
"Even though he was on his deathbed, he'd say, 'See that young man there? He's going to Iraq.' He was proud – he'd still be proud today," Koch said. "We were there when he took his last breath; he knew we were there. That was a choker."
"I wish he would have held on until I got back out of this," he added.
Koch still holds on to memories of his father, recalling his dad's uncanny ability and creativeness with tools, his love for his great-granddaughters, Mylee and Ericka, and his fondness for seeing his son in uniform.
"I was at his side at the funeral. I wore my dress blues; he loved me in my dress blues," Koch said.
"He was my go-to guy," Koch added. "I miss him."
As he prepared to deploy, Koch wasn't going to miss the chance to add Southwest Asia to his Bible's travel record. But prior to his departure from McGuire Air Force Base in June 2008, Koch's mother managed to slip a note of encouragement inside his Bible's cover. It seemed to have its intended effect.
"My mom said, 'It brought your grandfather and father home safe; it will do the same for you,'" Koch explained. "This year was hard for the family: I'm not there, my father's not there – but I'm coming home."
When he does, his Bible will come full circle by ending a three-war, 91-year journey where it began – at an Army fort in central New Jersey known as the Home of the Ultimate Weapon.