Locals receive Veterans Service Award

By Nicole Cooke

May 2, 2014

Two of Sedalia’s own were among 26 people awarded the Veterans Service Award by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder on Tuesday, which recognizes those who provide exemplary volunteer service to their communities.

Latisha Koetting and Joe Cochran both received the award during a banquet at the state capitol in Jefferson City. Both have a long history of being advocates for veterans, each in their own way.

Passing down a legacy

Cochran served in the Army from 1972 until 1983 when he was honorably discharged. He now serves as the commander of the American Legion Post 642 and the commander of the Legion’s color guard. He is also the flag folder and presenter at the VFW Post 2591, where he has presented more than 1,000 flags at military funerals. For Cochran, being involved with veterans’ organizations is important, but just as important to him is preserving the American flag, and passing on that importance to younger generations.

“If somebody doesn’t carry the torch the younger generation won’t know exactly what’s going on,” he said. “I try to stay involved as much as I can to carry the message of veterans and the American flag. Freedom isn’t free, some had to pay the ultimate price.”

To help pass on that knowledge, he started the Boy Scouts Order of the Arrow Sisilija Color Guard three years ago.

“I needed to get the message out on flag etiquette and needed to preserve the presentation of the colors to make sure it’s done properly, with dignity and respect for the American flag.

“It is awesome just to see the gleam in their eye of an accomplishment, something that they have done. They were given the tools to learn. They took a hold of those tools and put them to use and they do an outstanding job. I’m quite proud of all of them. And all the veterans organizations in this community.”

Koetting was the one who nominated Cochran, and she noted how his involvement in the color guard has helped the group win numerous state titles, including last year’s national title. She, among others, has also noticed his efforts to work with Sedalia youth.

“To sit there and see him and take all this pride and patriotism and take it to the younger generation, he’s a force in the Boy Scouts and (Order of the) Arrow, it’s by far one of the best in the state,” Koetting said. “Troop 61 goes to camp in Laurie, and Joe made this flag pole for them. Here’s a troop that raises the flag each day, and when they walk by it each day they take notice because he commands that presence and pride and passes it on to these boys.”

For Cochran, receiving the Veterans Service Award is recognition for his effort to share the importance of the American flag.

“Behind the scenes the community noticed that I was tyring to carry the message and they believed in what I was doing and I believed in what I was doing,” he said. “It was the proper thing to do. I’ve been in parades and walking down the street when the flag goes by you’d be surprised how many people don’t take off their hats, continue to talk or don’t put their hand over their hearts.”

Preserving history

Koetting was in her own category of recognition during the banquet. She was the only non-veteran recognized, and she received a special award instead of the Veterans Service Award. In the two years the award has been given, this was the first time a non-veteran was recognized.

“It was a special award. The lieutenant governor knows all the work she’s done over the years and this was a way to recognize that,” said Jay Eastlick, director of communications with Kinder’s office. “It technically is not a Veterans Service Award, but it’s a special award for all the work she does for veterans.”

During her 17 years at the Democrat, Koetting started the Veterans’ Page and documented more than 300 veterans stories. She said it started as a way to make up for not finding out her grandpa’s story, a World War II veteran.

“I learned the importance of hearing the history. You’ll learn more from these guys than you’ll learn from any history book,” she said. “As you learn more and more they touched my lives, they weren’t just a person, they became family. I think of all of them like that today.”

She’s now the director of volunteer services at the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg, where she also serves in an advisory role on the Veterans Assistance League Board of Directors. There she works with veterans on a daily basis, and she said that interaction doesn’t stop when office hours are over.

“I don’t stop visiting with veterans once it’s 4 or 5 o’clock. It’s constant,” she said. “I’ll go to ceremonies, I went to Crown Hill Cemetery (last Memorial Day), not because I had to but it was a great opportunity to help them pick up all the flags. Something about being able to be with those guys will stick in my mind.

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but once you get connected you can’t help but advocate for them.”

It was also special for both Koetting and Cochran to receive the award together.

“That made it even more special to receive it unexpectedly but with someone I admire and respect so much,” Koetting said. “It was special for both of us because we both believe in it so much. There are so many of our veterans that do so much for our community, I’ll always have someone to nominate for this award.”

“That was totally awesome especially because Latisha, she does a tremendous amount of work for all the veterans not just in the community but in the county,” Cochran said. “She’s carried the message for years. She has continued to do so with an open mind and an open heart. She’s just an awesome lady when it comes to veterans. She has compassion, she has pride, she has honor.”