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WVU Press publishes Ken Hechler biography


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia University Press has published “The Rebel in the Red Jeep: Ken Hechler’s Life in West Virginia Politics,” a biography written by Carter Taylor Seaton.

In this August 2010 photo, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Ken Heckler show off his “Ken Do” jeep.

The book follows the personal and professional experiences of Hechler, the West Virginia politician and activist who died in 2016 at the age of 102.

It recounts his World War II experiences, his work as a speechwriter and researcher for President Harry Truman, his stint as a college professor and his time representing West Virginia in the U.S.House of Representatives and later as West Virginia Secretary of State.

Traveling the state in his familiar red Jeep, Hechler, a Democrat, was a crusader for coal mine safety and an outspoken foe of mountaintop removal mining. In 2008, a 94-yer-old Hechler was arrested for trespassing during a protest at a mine site.

Interviewed at a 2014 party celebrating Hechler’s 100th birthday, Seaton said she had been working on the book since 2012 and the more she researched his life, the more appreciation she gained of him.

“He didn’t kowtow to the political machine,” Seaton said. “He voted his conscience and worked for the important issues for the people of West Virginia.”

A native of New York, Hechler was educated at Swarthmore College and Columbia University. He served in the Army as a combat historian during World War II. His experiences in Germany became part of one his 10 books, “The Bridge at Remagen,” published in 1957 and made into a motion picture in 1969. After the war, he served in the Truman administration and other positions in Washington.

In 1957, he moved to Huntington to teach political science at Marshall College. The following year he was a dark horse candidate for Congress. His unexpected victory launched his long political career. He served 18 years in the House, concentrating his efforts on coalmine health and safety issues, protection of the environment and civil rights. Hechler was the only member of Congress to march with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 in Selma, Alabama.

Hechler left Congress in 1976 to unsuccessfully run for governor. Later attempts to regain his seat in Congress failed. In 1984, he was elected West Virginia’s Secretary of State and was re-elected in 1988, 1992 and 1996. In 2010, he ran for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Robert C. Byrd but was defeated. Hechler, who was 95 at the time, said he was running to draw attention to the issue of mountaintop removal.

Carter Taylor Seaton is the author of “Hippie Homesteaders: Arts, Crafts, Music, and Living on the Land in West Virginia,” two novels and numerous magazine articles. A ceramic sculptor, she previously directed a rural craft cooperative and was a marketing professional for 30 years.

The official launch of her Hechler biography is scheduled for May 20 with an event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cabell Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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