Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
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Winds of Change
February 2003


 What Part Don't Coal Companies Understand?

Remembering Laura

Don't Despair - Organize and Fight Back Instead!

West Virginia Bill for Public Financing of Elections Advancing

Trick or Treat for George Bush - No War!

West Virginia's Clean Election Law - Let's Do the Right Thing and Return Honor to the Process

China - Nehlen remark unwise

Sylvester 'Dustbusters' Beat Up On Massey Energy

Massey Energy Subsidiary Denied Permit to Cover Another West Virginia Town with Coal Dust

Small Town Threatened by Huge Slurry Impoundment Proposal

Mothman Returns: Is He Sending Us Another Dire Warning?

Ken Hechler: A Hero for Our Time

Buffalo Creek 30 Years Later - Have We Learned the Lessons?

Legislation Introduced to Counter Bush Rollback of Clean Water Regulations

Whose Monument Is It?
Keep Miner, Ditch Industry Rhetoric at New Coal Memorial

World Social Forum Shows Commonality of People's Goals

The Field of Broken Dreams

Hey! The Truth IS Out There!

The Truth is Out There - Wayyyyyy Out There, in Massey Energy's Case

Honoring a Great Crusader


For viewing the PDF version


Ken Hechler: A Hero for Our Time

by Janet Fout
"No figure ever gave me more hope than you did ... When they finally strike a medal for guts and integrity, decency and inspirational leadership, the first one should be yours, hands down." the late Ward Sinclair, Washington correspondent of The Louisville Times (referring to Ken Hechler).
(Italics are excerpts by Dan LeRoy for Graffiti where Ken was named Eer of the Year for 2002.)

Ken Hechler talks with Texas populist Jim Hightower at the November 2002 "Just Gimme Some Truth" conference organized by MAPS (Marshall Action for Peaceful Solutions).   Related article : Hey! The Truth IS Out There!

The year was 1987 and I was just sticking my toe in the vast waters of environmental activism, hoping to spare Greenbottom Swamp from the "lets build a dam here" mentality of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, aided and abetted by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, who at that time had only one thing in mind for the wetlands more habitat for waterfowl.

Greenbottom Swamp, the third largest wetlands in West Virginia and a haven for many breeding and migratory birds, is also the location of the General Albert G. Jenkins pre-Civil War home and one of the most significant native American archaeological digs in the state.

Though I hadnt a clue about the waters into which I was wading, something inside me said that in order to weigh in on this issue, Huntington Audubon would need support from many interested individuals and groups (a tried and true organizing technique I now know that works).

Dr. Hechler, a local expert on General Jenkins and our Secretary of State at that time, was the first person I called. For starters, I couldnt believe how accessible he was! His secretary put me right though, and we spent a great deal of time talking about the possibilities at Greenbottom. He was full of ideas and interested in being involved. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a relationship of shared activism that has endured for nearly two decades.

Thirty years earlier, Ken Hechler had already begun his political career as a West Virginia Congressman. "He was already in his mid-40s by the time he ran his first campaign, for Congress, in 1957. And by then, hed already accomplished more than most people manage in an entire lifetime.

"Hed earned his Ph.D. in government and history, risen to the rank of major in the Army during World War II, written his first book (which was later turned into a major motion picture), and served two of the countrys most famous presidents. Along the way, hed managed to interview legendary figures like Albert Einstein (for his college newspaper) and Nazi commander Hermann Goering, get dressed down by Gen. George Patton, and court the daughter of a chief executive (Harry S. Trumans daughter, Bess). Besides that, he learned to play a mean game of tennis, a skill he still demonstrates on occasion."

By the age of 40, Hechler had already lived a remarkable life with so much more to come. Although I was a poor student of history and apolitical at best as a young person, the name Ken Hechler was very familiar to me. And no wonder.

"He took on the coal companies and the Boyle leadership of the UMW over black lung legislation, and won. He was the first major political figure in West Virginia - or anywhere - to propose an absolute ban on strip mining (emphasis mine). These things take political - and physical - courage," wrote conservative commentator Michael Barone in 1974. And William Safire noted in The New York Times that "Hechler risked not only his political life but his actual life in his battle; he gave em hell and beat em. Hundreds of miners now owe their lives to his fearless campaign, and conservatives like me take their hats off to a liberal with the courage of his convictions.

" There were other profiles in courage during his congressional career. He was the lone member of Congress to march with Martin Luther King to Selma in 1965, chartering his own plane to make the trek."

Since facing off with me in a high school auditorium packed with angry duck hunters in the late 1980s, weve shared some other battles. Ken has been the single most vocal public servant decrying the coal industrys outrageous practice of decapitating mountains and destroying streams.

Hes been chided, kicked and shoved by angry strip miners in Marmet, WV, walked several hundred miles across the country with "Granny D," Doris Haddock, to call attention to a form of legalized bribery in this country masked as campaign contributions from big special interests, and most recently weighed in (pun intended) on the ravages to lives, roads and bridges caused by overloaded coal trucks in southern West Virginia. He has always stood firmly on the side of the people supporting them with dignity and courage.

Thanks, Ken. Your life is an inspiration.


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