Edward I. Koch passed away on February 1, 2013 at the age of 88. It’s been over 20 years since he last served as Mayor of his beloved New York City, but his impact is still felt in the city and throughout the nation. And, importantly, he leaves behind a legacy of dedication to military service that will be remembered by his fellow Veterans.
A decorated World War II veteran, and proud of his service, Koch is credited with New York City’s 1980's recovery from near-bankruptcy. During his three terms, he helped propel the city to the sustained economic growth and booming tourism of the 1990's and 2000's.
At a funeral service held in New York City on February 4th, heads of state, city leaders, and surviving Big Apple mayors – David Dinkins, a Marine Corp veteran who defeated Koch fin his 4th term run, Rudolph Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg – honored and eulogized him.
“The New York City that Ed inherited is almost unimaginable today,” said current NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who added that Koch, as a 3rd term mayor himself, had encouraged him to continue running for yet another term in office.
“He restored the arc of our City’s history,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “He reminded us why we loved New York, and he inspired us to fight for it.”
Former president Bill Clinton, cutting short a trip to Japan to pay homage to the late mayor at the behest of President Obama, expressed his gratitude to the mayor for his enormous contributions to the City and the nation. Clinton referred to a stack of Koch letters he brought along, written from the mayor to President Clinton that offered advice and opinions during his presidential years.
Clinton praised Koch as someone who "had a big brain but an even bigger heart." "I don’t think I ever debated, discussed, agreed with, argued with anybody in this line of work who had a better feel for the impact of what government had on real lives of people," Clinton said. "He could imagine what life was like."
After leaving office, Koch appeared regularly on TV, radio, print media, the lecture circuit and in schools. He developed a following by circulating email newsletters chock full of opinion on a wide range of current events and political subjects, remaining as relevant as ever on the forefront of New York City public opinion and trends.
And, ever dedicated to serving Military Veterans, Koch published his movie reviews as Veterans Advantage’s “movie critic,” producing scores of reviews over the last few years that appeared regularly on VeteransAdvantage.com. A lifelong movie fan, Koch’s reviews reflected his varied life experiences, particularly stories from his government or military service. In his inimitable style, he usually cut quickly to the chase, often with a “Don’t waste your money!” -- a familiar refrain for a movie that Koch rated negative.
Yet, above all his candor, the nation and its military veterans will remember Koch for his dedication and commitment to honor the service of Vietnam Veterans at a time when it was decidedly unpopular to do so. Most Americans, and New Yorkers too, wanted to simply forget the war and, sadly, the warrior too, as they confused one with the other. Koch stepped up and took action to recognize the service and sacrifice of Vietnam Veterans. Initially asking for a study proposal, in 1981, Koch tapped Veterans Advantage Founder and CEO H. Scott Higgins, to Co-Chair the NYC Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission along with Donald Trump.
Scott Higgins and the members of his Commission worked closely with Mayor Koch over the next several years to build the stunning Vietnam Veterans Memorial in downtown Manhattan. In 1985, ten years after the end of the Vietnam War, the New York City Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated, and the City hosted a “Welcome Home” parade for Vietnam Veterans up Broadway’s “Canyon of Heroes”. The parade was attended by both New Yorkers and Vietnam Veterans from around the nation, and became the largest ticket tape parade in the history of New York.
Mayor Koch wrote to Higgins during his last days in office, December 1989, “As I reflect back over what were twelve glorious years as Mayor of the greatest city in the world, one of the greatest moments of my tenure in office was the dedication of the wonderfully evocative Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the emotional parade the next day across the Brooklyn Bridge and down the ‘Canyon of Heroes’.”
New York City had finally honored the service and sacrifice of its Vietnam Veterans, thanks to Mayor Koch’s unwavering support and dedication to his mission of recognizing those who serve our country. In time, the New York City Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the work of the Mayor’s Commission resulted in the publication of the best-selling book, Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam with an Introduction by John McCain - reviewed by David Halberstam as "An overwhelmingly eloquent book of the purest and most simple writing on Vietnam." - and the production of an HBO award-winning documentary by the same name.
Born in the Bronx to immigrant Polish Jewish parents, Koch was drafted into the wartime Army in 1943 and earned two battle stars in Europe as an infantryman. After V-E Day, because he could speak German, he was sent to Bavaria to help remove Nazi public officials from their jobs and find non-Nazis to take their place. After serving as a sergeant, he was discharged in 1946, and entered law school before becoming a lawyer, city councilman, and U.S. congressman. In 1977, he was elected as Mayor of the City of New York, where he served three terms.
Most recently, he served as Grand Marshall of the 2012 New York City Veterans Day Parade, now the nation’s largest and televised nationally, proudly representing the same military veterans he had steadfastly supported with special recognition over the years and – of course – his great city, New York.
“The passing of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, is a sad day for all of us,” said Higgins, who also attended the funeral. “He will be sorely missed.”