FRONTENAC — World War II, a war that, like the “Great War” which came before it, many hoped would end all wars. Ken Coulter would tell you it was a pity it didn't. His son, Rod, who was a helicopter crew member during Vietnam, would agree. "War is hell," they both say. The Coulter men don't look like Hollywood movie soldiers. Least of all Ken, but soldier he was, and one with a unique story.
Ken Coulter is a soft spoken man with a small twinkle in his eye. He smiles slowly when something amuses him, and reminds you very much of a kind grandfather, which of course he is.
He has an air of polish around him that has not faded with age. It comes from a childhood as the son of a fine men's clothing store owner, put in stone by the discipline that comes from being a marine. His hearing may have gone, but his manners have not.
He smiles at the crowd gathered to hear his stories about the war. The look at his face seeming to say he's not quite sure what all the fuss is about, but he's willing to indulge the eager faced young people.
His story loops and strays, as most stories do when told by people with nearly a century of life experiences. That story begins long before World War II.
Years before, World War I had come knocking on the door of a teacher, one who having survived the war, found himself the instructor to a young Ken Coulter.
"He told us about it, and when the Second World War broke out, those stories moved me to join,” he said.
Coulter joined the Marines where he was sent to California for training. It is then that his story moves from the normal path of young Marine. For Ken Coulter was not destined for the frontline. Perhaps it was that polish or that easy country boy way, or perhaps as Ken tells it, "I was just good at typing."
For whatever reason right before Coulter was due to leave California for 30 days of leave before shipping to Europe his sergeant pulled up and told him to get in the truck. He had a special job for him.
Coulter was immediately shipping to Pearl Harbor where he began to help with typing up military intelligence.
Ken says little about that time. Only that he helped with the orders surrounding movements in Japan.
One story though, he does tell.
He was asked by one of his bosses to sit in on a debriefing of a Japanese prisoner of war, and it is that exchange that tells you much of what you need to know about Coulter.
During the interview he asked the POW how to get in touch with his family. Later when Coulter was transferred to Japan he found the family of the young Japanese soldier informing his mother that he was okay.
"She didn't show much reaction, but that was her culture," he said.
Not everything in Japan was heartwarming. Coulter was tasked with scouting missions, often times finding stockpiles of weapons in preparation for invasion.
"It would have been bad if we had invaded," he said in a serious tone.
Coulter grows quieter. Happy it seems that those years are behind him. Coulter returned from the war, and continued his family legacy in fine men's clothing. Now a resident of Oakview Estates in Frontenac, he has many friends who are veterans.
One however, proves that the example of service, and compassion, was passed directly down the Coulter line.
Roscoe Peterson is a Vietnam vet. The Coulters need no introduction to him.
As a young grunt on the ground in Vietnam, the sight of a US helicopter braving fire to save the day is one of the most welcome many vets remember. When Peterson saw it, Rod Coulter was manning it.