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Ken was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on May 23, 1951 to Betty Ann Welch (Turk). He was her first boy. Ken was named Kenneth after his Uncle Kenneth Turk, and Vernon after his Uncle Vernon Welch. Ken's Uncle Ken Turk is a Army veteran joining the US Army 82nd Airborne in 1946, serving in Italy and Trieste. Ken also had an Uncle Ron Welch who earned a purple heart in the Korean war, and survived the tiger death march.
Betty (Turk) was born in Petoskey, Michigan and moved to Grand Rapids, graduated from East Grand Rapids High School, and started raising a family with her first son, Ken.
Ken had to be a natural born leader because of the family circumstances He found himself in a role of leadership at a very early age. It was not long in his life before he started helping 'raise' his brothers under his Mother's supervision.
Ken joined the US Army in 1972. The economy was bad, or he got tired of working in a factory in Michigan in between being laid off. Either way, his decision was to volunteer for the US Army during the time of the draft in America. He subsequently volunteered for duty in Vietnam. Ken remained in the US Army until his death in Lebanon September 20, 1984.
His tours were:
In 1972 Ken went to Vietnam and was assigned to the courier service known as ARFCOSTA which had the responsibility of moving classified and top secret material around Vietnam. He was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Airbase in Saigon, Vietnam. He left Vietnam a few weeks before the fall of Saigon. He broke down and transferred all of the classified material and data back to the United States. Ken left Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon. He is credited for breaking down the station he was assigned and moving all of the sensitive material back to the United States.
Ken continued his work with the Courier Service for the US Army making trips around Europe moving material to and from SHAPE, NATO, and US military bases throughout Europe. Ken really enjoyed his time in Belgium. He made many very close friends including Belgians. His youngest brother came to live with him, and his other brother was stationed in London, England, at the US Embassy as a Marine guard. Ken virtually brought his family with him to Europe. He got married while stationed in Belgium, and had his first son while still there. Even his mother would eventually travel to Europe and visit. During this time Ken transitioned his military career to the intelligence field working with and within the US Embassy.
Ken went to Iran in a time of great turmoil and strife in Iran. It was basically a war zone. The result of a revolution of Islamic extremist who still have control of the country until this very day. It was a time that Iran had deposed the Shaw of Iran in a revolution and installed the religious zealots.
In this time of great strife Ken had his second son who was born in Iran.
While working in the embassy in Tehran Ken was caught in street marches, and actually came under fire again in Iran. He helped countless Iranian citizens leave Tehran, and helped secure the US Embassy shortly before he left the country. Weeks later the US embassy was overtaken by radicals, and the United States of America and Iran would never be the same. The USA because we started to live with, or live through, terrorist strikes funded by governments, and Iran because they chose a path of violence and terrorist funding lead by Islamic extremist. This has changed the world. Not only why Iran chose terrorism, but how Iran chose to fund terrorism throughout the world. A funding and a fight that continue to this day.
The 52 United States hostages were taken in the embassy compound by Islamic Extremist a matter of weeks after Ken left Iran. The hostages included his friends, work mates, boss, and people he trained to take over his position. Ken was in Iran during the first overtaking, however, he was in his apartment at the time. He left Iran as mentioned weeks before the hostages were captured.
Ken moved to Ireland and started working at the United States embassy in Dublin. It was nice to be out of a war zone and back in a peaceful country. Ken's immediate boss was Lt. Col. Bournes. Ken worked as a Chief Warrant Officer while in Ireland. Ken worried constantly about the other US personnel and his friends who were held hostage in Iran. He received advancement while in Ireland. Ken's little brother came to live with him and his new family again while he was in Ireland. The hostages were released while Ken was in Ireland and they even landed in Shannon air base where Ken was able to meet them. Ken had friends in the Marine Corp while in Ireland. One of them who also had transferred from Iran. They had come under fire together in Iran. Ireland was a good work location for Ken and provided some relief after surviving Iran.
Ken spent a tour in Cameroon, Africa with his family. He worked in the US Embassy there. For the first time in Ken's career he seemed to wear down on this campaign. He started talking a lot more about retiring and doing something outside and after embassy service and the military. He talked about living in America. He started saying how he missed living in America, and wanted to come home. He did enjoy traveling and seeing the culture of Africa. He seemed to have lost the zeal for the assignments. He was getting ready to come home.
Ken went to work at the US embassy in China and brought his family with him. He said he was doing work with the China government as it related to the recovery of MIA (missing in action) from Vietnam. Work was good, but Ken had encountered problems that were not related to his assignment or profession. As a result of these problems Ken had to leave China before his assignment date was up. It was what he called "a black mark" on an otherwise sterling record. He felt he had let the embassy down. He went to Washington to debrief, and spent the rest of his time between assignments back home in Grand Rapids, Michigan at his mother's house where he lived.
The US Army had a great solution for recovering from a perceived "black mark", and a way to make up for leaving a post early. Another tour in a verifiable HOT SPOT. There was a new embassy annex that was being established in Christian East Beirut. Ken could not overlook the fact that he was the perfect person for that sort of task with the military. It was obvious that his entire military career had put him in a perfect position to master the task that were asked of him. He talked about this being his last hot spot and his career would then get to less stressful assignments. He did not make it.
Ken went to Beirut alone. Ken was only in Beirut for four months. He spent two months at the US embassy before transferring to the new embassy annex. Ken mentioned how beautiful Beirut was by the sea. He had not felt that positive about this assignment, but he reminded all of us that he had survived hot spots before, and he expected to be home from this tour. What we know now is that the government of Iran had been pouring money and resources into terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and they had a plan. They wanted to bomb another US target and kill more Americans.
Hezbollah with the backing and support of the Iranian government bombed the US embassy annex in Lebanon on September 20, 1984 at around noon. That act ended a great military career, and killed a wonderful person.
I never met you. however, after meeting your Mother Betty, and your Brothers Mike, Gerald and Don one can safely assume that the Welch family has great roots. Thank you for your service to our Nation and the Constitution. Thank you for staring our modern-day dictators in the face and never flinching. May God bless your family with healing and strength every day!
We must never forget freedom isn't free, someone is paying that price today!
Kenneth V Welch was a great Son, and a wonderful Brother.
Kenneth was the Father of two sons who were 6 and 8 years old when he was killed.
The story of his death
On September 20, 1984 they took Ken Welch from the world in a hit on the US Embassy. An expert testified that the Iran funded group Hezboulla had incorporated and infiltrated construction workers while the embassy annex was being constructed. Hezbollah took those plans to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and practiced the entrance in a bomb filled vehicle to the embassy many times. The plan more than likely was practiced before Kenneth V. Welch even arrived in Lebanon.
U.S. Embassy Annex, Beirut, Lebanon
After the bombing September 20, 1984
Here is the description of the killing of Kenneth Welch from the book Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam by Robin Wright.
Beirut, Lebanon (AP) - Lebanese state and private radios reported an explosion Thursday at the East Beirut annex of the U.S. Embassy. Lebanon's state radio said the explosion was in the building and may have started a fire...
Associated Press, Thursday, September 20, 1984
Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth Welch had been in Lebanon less than four months working as an operations coordinator in the office of the Defense Intelligence Agency. With the bulk of the embassy staff, he had moved to the annex less than two months earlier-for security reasons. Christian-controlled East Beirut was considered safer than the Muslim west, where all the earlier attacks and kidnappings had taken place.
Welch was typing a report at his desk on the third floor shortly before noon that Thursday when a cream colored Chevrolet van maneuvered past a concrete dragon's-teeth barricade and several Lebanese guards at the cordoned entrance road leading to the annex. Welch appears to have stood up after hearing guards fire shots at the van. He was not fast enough. The force of the two-thousand-pound load of explosives blew the tall, solidly built officer against the wall. His neck snapped.
Thirteen others also died. More than thirty were injured. "We are not against the American people," said a young member of the Shi'ite "Party of God" two weeks later. "We are against oppression and injustice. The fire of Islam will burn those who are responsible for these practices [against Islam]. We have been dominated by the U.S. government and others for too long." A leading Shi'ite academic put it another way: "The extreme expression of fundamentalism are expressions of despair."
. . . Two GREENISH-BLACK STONE PLAQUES listing in gold letters the names and dates of 143 U.S. diplomats killed in the line of duty hang in the lobby of the State Department Building in Washington. The first plaque begins in 1780, with the name of a diplomat lost at sea, and ends in 1967. The second plaque has almost been filled in eighteen years, as diplomats have increasingly become victims of terrorism. As of the spring of 1985, when this book went through final revisions, four of the last five people whose names were added to the plaque had died at the hands of Shia extremist. The names of Ken Welch and another military attaché who died in the second embassy bombing in Beirut, and two U.S. Agency of International Development envoys killed in the hijacking of a Kuwaiti plane to Tehran, were added in a ceremony in May. A third plaque is already being planned.
September 20, 1984, was a steamy Mediterranean day, calm by Beirut standards. Kenny Rogers, a big strapping Scot doing temporary duty in Beirut, was standing guard in the parking lot of the American Embassy annex in Christian East Beirut, waiting for British Ambassador David Miers to conclude a courtesy call on his counterpart, Reginald Bartholomew. A royal military policeman, Rogers was part of the beefed-up security team for British diplomats.
Guard duty seemed much easier in the Christian sector, which had witnessed comparatively few vicious attacks so frequent in the Muslim-dominated west over the previous three years. The site added to the psychology. Aukar is a quiet residential suburb of hillside villas and luxury apartments built along winding little roads, facing the sea. Unlike most other parts of the capital, Aukar was unscarred by a decade of war. But the British ambassador's three bodyguards still had to be on alert at the beige tile-and -concrete annex, where the majority of U.S diplomats had been rebased just two months.
As he waited near Mier's armored Minster sedan, Roger's attention was drawn to the end of the cordoned road in front of the annex. "I looked along the road and saw a light-colored Chevrolet van with diplomatic plates," he recalled the next day. "There seemed to be an argument going on between the gate guard and the vehicle. There was a shot fired by the man in the van. The van accelerated down the road in the direction of the embassy [annex]. One of the other guards fired, possibly three rounds, at the van. By this time the van was almost parallel to me."
Then he realized exactly what was about to happen, the greatest fear of foreigners in Lebanon: a bomb-laden vehicle was heading straight for the entrance of a diplomatic facility. "I fired five rounds through the door," Rogers said. "I saw the driver fall over. As he fell over, he pulled the steering wheel to the right. The vehicle slid sideways and hit the American van [parked] at the side." Then it blew up.
And so, Ken was gone. In this book it mentions that the action of Rogers, and a Lebanese guard saved many lives and perhaps two ambassadors.
The heroics of Rogers and a Lebanese guard, who the Americans claimed actually fired the crucial shots, prevented the van, with its three thousand pounds of explosive, from getting within ten yards of the front door-and what an American colonel supervising the aftermath estimated would have been a death toll five times greater. Fourteen were killed, only two of them Americans, and dozen injured.
The "only two" Americans who died were:
Chief Warrant Officer II Kenneth V. Welch, US Army
Chief Petty Officer Michael Wagner, US Navy
He has left a hole in the Welch family. It is my personal opinion that terrorism rips the fabric of America, and the world. The family. Kenneth Welch's killing at the hand of Islamic extremist was a direct hit on the entire Welch family.
We should all remember those who fell at the hands of terrorist, and we should vow to defeat not just the evil people who perpetrate the crime, but destroy the thinking that encourages it. We should pursue the countries, and organizations that support and fund terrorism.
Chief Warrant Officer II Kenneth Welch was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Interment started in the chapel at Arlington and moved to section 59 where his grave lies.
Here are excerpts of the eulogy for Ken which was given by Colonel William V. Bournes on, September 26,1984. Col. Bournes was Ken's commander in Dublin, Ireland.
Ken was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on 23 May 1951, the son of Betty Welch. He graduated from Kelloggsville High School where he enjoyed, along with his brothers... the typical youthful pursuits with a fondness for sports. He was an avid tinkerer and practiced mechanic.
At about the age of 21 (in 1972) Ken enlisted in the Army. He served initially at Fort Knox and subsequently with the Armed Forces Courier Service overseas in Saigon (1972 -73) and in Brussels (1973-78). He entered voluntarily the Defense Attaché System. Following a brief training period, he was posted from 1978 to 1979 to the Defense Attaché Office, Tehran as the Intelligence Assistant. He departed Tehran in the phased reduction of the office just prior to its 1979 takeover by the Khomeni regime. Ken then became the operations coordinator in Dublin, Ireland followed by assignments to Yaoundi, (Cameroon), to Beijing, (China), and to Beirut, Lebanon) to which he reported on 17 May, just four short months ago.
...His entire extended family was important to Ken; and his wife and his two bright, healthy boys were a source of immense pride and enjoyment to him.
Ken joined me at the embassy in Dublin in November 1979. In retrospect, I had great misgivings about his posting to that assignment. He was junior in rank, an E-6 and the first of that rank ever to be assigned to that office; The cost of living was exorbitant; he was inexperienced; and, he had two very small and active children. He was also shy and extremely quiet. Despite these things, I soon realized he was something special. Through the prudent management of his finances, he experienced no great trauma--the problem I had feared most. He grasped quickly the fundamentals of his responsibilities. He wasn't hampered by experience. He digested the administrative procedures rapidly; and, he established and exceptional level of rapport with the American Embassy staff--both the local employees and the Foreign Service Officers--from the American Ambassador William V. Shannon on down, which continues to exist to this day. He was a performer and he was soon the most popular guy in the embassy.
In short order the word spread that "Ken could fix it." He was impossible to locate at night and on weekends. He was besieged with calls to repair cars and appliances. Even during lunch hour Ken could be seen under staff member's car. He was also called on by the Embassy staff to repair word processors, typewriters, calculators and the embassy emergency generator on an occasion or two. He never complained; and, to my knowledge, he was seldom if ever reimbursed. When the Embassy received its new communications and word processing equipment, Ken became the maintenance expert despite his total absence of formal instruction. He merely pilfered the appropriate manuals and entered into intensive self-taught program. Ken realized that his detailed knowledge of this system would enable him to assist the short-handed embassy staff and thus their support to our office operations would be enhanced. He was right as usual.
In 1979 I discussed with Ken the merits of becoming a warrant officer. But, he shrugged this suggestion off as a fruitless endeavor. He believed his professional background was too limited; he was a bit over weight; and, he was unsure of his personal capacity to tackle the greater responsibilities associated with this grade. His apprehension was typical of his modest, Mid-Western self appraisal. In fact, he had continually demonstrated an unqualified capacity to shoulder the mantle of most positions in the Defense Attaché System--as I viewed them. Nonetheless we proceeded with his application knowing that a very difficult task faced us. First, it was necessary to persuade Washington that Ken was not too inexperienced and that he was a solid soldier as I had portrayed and truly believed him to be. This was merely a writing task. Then we were informed that Ken was some 20 pounds overweight and that a medical officer's certification upon attaining an acceptable weight would be required prior to any Washington action on his application. In true form, Ken tackled this problem with absolute dedication and enthusiasm. He wrapped himself in a black plastic garbage bag to cause him to perspire profusely. He then jogged from his quarters to work--a distance of about three miles each way in the morning reversing this effort in the evening. In addition to appearing silly to the Irishmen and ladies along his route, this Herculean effort failed to have the dramatic impact hoped for. He was, after all, in good shape. Another solution was called for if the bureaucracy was to be beaten into submission.
I asked for and received an appointment with a prominent local physician for a routine health consultation. Arriving at the appointed hour, I discussed the problem with the quietly pensive physician. The doctor then turned his full attention to Ken. He noted Ken was a "tad large"--but, that he was a "great raw-boned lad". Ken was assured that, in the doctor's opinion, he was not overweight. After some detailed discussion of the problem, the doctor asked that I wait in the outer office while he conducted his examination. On departing the reception room, the doctor pointed to his rather antiquated scales and philosophized about weight. "It is a superficial measure of one's health, he said. We in the medical profession ought to be measuring the size of heart--a far more useful measure. It's the inside not the outside that counts," he said with a touch of sarcastic concern over our preoccupation with what he considered a minor problem. When Ken and the doctor emerged, about an half hour later, they were discussing with great liveliness American baseball--which the doctor, a graduate of an American Medical College, loved. It was obvious that Ken had taught the doctor how to play his computer football game which he always carried in his pocket. At any rate I noticed that the doctor still held Ken's infernal "toy" in his hand! After some further light hearted banter the doctor pronounced Ken "fighten fit," the ultimate Irish measure of health. To my surprise, he then asked that I step on the scales. I hopped on dutifully. The registration quivered at about 185 pounds. He asked me how I felt and what I believed a decent weight for me should be. Puzzled, I responded that, in my opinion, a weight of about 165 would approach perfection. He studied my frame thoughtfully and allowed as how that would be "a bit skeletal" "but," he said, "if that was what you believe it should be, it is good enough for me." He then bent to one knee and twisted the calibration knob. As the weight indicator started to fall he kept inquiring as to the state of my health. "Let me know when you feel best," he said, with a chuckle. When the needle approached at 165 pounds, he said, "tell me when." "Now" I said, as the needle quivered at 165 pounds. Good," he responded as he stood erect and smoothed his frock.
His ruddy-complexioned face framing a boyish grin gleamed with a bit of perspiration. It was necessary for him to catch his breath momentarily from the exertion. "OK, Mr. Welch," he said, "It's your turn!" A bit confused, Ken stepped on the scales with his weight registering an acceptable 195 pounds. He had overcome the final obstacle! Ken and the doctor traded baseball stories to the door as we departed with the certified documentation. Our efforts were rewarded on 26 February 1981. Ambassador William Vincent Shannon honored us by bestowing this well-deserved promotion on Ken... Ken became one of the youngest warrant officers in the Defense Attaché System in terms of service. The entire embassy staff attended the event and every member extended warm and sincere congratulations to this unique young man.
Unfortunately, Ken departed Dublin the following month, in March, 1981, for his new posting in his new rank to Yaounde, Cameroon. From there, he was reassigned to Beijing, China; and following a brief training period in the U.S. Ken was reassigned further to Beirut.
It is a simple matter to praise Ken Welch, for his magnificent attitude and the tremendous effort he always put into his job. It is impossible, however, for me to measure his loss. We here today have lost more than a friend and a loved one. Woody Hayes, the Ohio State coaching legend, would characterize the tragic loss as that of a winner--as I do. Ken never looked at his shoelaces; he made things happen. He was always light of spirit and standing by with a helping hand. And, he always could recite a light hearted story to promote his theory that a measure of good humor made everything achievable and tolerable. He was a team member and contributor! He gave far more that he ever received.
I recall appropriately the words written by Allan J. Lerner, the song writer, at the death of his close friend, Maurice Chevalier. He wrote, "I envy the angels." Those of us who were fortunate to have known Ken Welch, will never forget him as a true friend, a dedicated father, and devoted husband and a son and brother. He was also a professional who died at the young age of 33 as he lived--with enormous personal pride and with selfless dedication to his family, to each of those of us with whom he served, and to his nation, for which he gave the ultimate sacrifice.
After a short ceremony at his grave site the flag was folded and presented.
A 21 gun salute was sounded, and TAPS was played Ken was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
I knew Ken and his lovely wife and two young children when they were stationed in Dublin. He was such a warm and loving gentleman, totally devoted to his family and his job. We had many great evenings together and I was devastated when I heard the sad news of his death. I hope his wife and children, who are grown men now, realise what a great person he was.