In Memoriam: World War One Centennial Commissioner Jerry Hester
By Mike Hanlon, Editor/Publisher
via the Roads to the Great War web site
One of the most inexhaustible and effective soldiers in the effort to honor the Americans who served and sacrificed their nation in the First World War has left us. My friend and fellow Air Force veteran Jerry Hester passed away on 5 August 2022 at age 90. He was one of the most active members of the World War One Centennial Commission, possibly because he had the longest commitment to the cause. Jerry had previously served as Chairman of the 70th Anniversary World War One National Committee and had never lost his enthusiasm for its history. He was ready for the Centennial and embraced the mission.
Of course, as with everyone associated with the commemoration, Commissioner Hester was determined to see that national memorial completed in our nations capital. I know he was delighted to see that come to pass. Jerry, however, also had at least three specialties at which he worked with extreme dedication through the Centennial.
1. Over Here: Jerry was a tireless encourager of commemorations and reflections on the war in his home state of North Carolina. Whether it involved the state's memorial wildflower program or remembering the war's fallen from his alma mater, North Carolina State, he was in the middle of the action. While I don't know of the specifics of his involvement, I don't think it's any accident North Carolinians did one of the best jobs of a state in documenting their wartime experience during the Centennial.
2. Over There: Jerry Hester was one of the two or three most travelingest of the Centennial Commissioners during the commemorative period, representing America in events at such famous places as at Belleau Wood, Versailles, the Somme, Reims, the Argonne Forest, and Flanders. He also lent support for European-initiated projects, such as the restoration of the American Memorial Church at Chateau-Thierry.
3. Honoring U.S. Aviation: Being a former Air Force aviator, Jerry spent the largest part of his time remembering and honoring the air effort of the Yanks. Two of his efforts stand out for me. Less known than Frank Luke or Eddie Rickenbacker, Lieutenants Erwin Bleckley and Harold Goettler also received Medals of Honor, though posthumously, for their support of the Lost Battalion. Jerry regularly made efforts to make sure these men were remembered by their nation, the Air Force, and in France, where they served and died.
By far, however, Jerry Hester's most visible and, I think, personally demanding effort was in serving as chair of the working group that raised the final share of the $14 million cost for the restoration of the magnificent Lafayette Escadrille Memorial and Cemetery at Marnes-la-Coquette outside Paris. Fifteen years ago when I first visited what is today the shining structure shown below, it was greying, leaking, sinking, and fracturing. Jerry's group of boosters and fundraisers and the American Battle Monuments Commission staff who did the heavy managerial lifting are responsible for this wonderful restoration that every American ought to be proud of.
Read the entire article on the Roads to the Great War web site here:
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