Honoring Others

WEATHERFORD, TX — Eighty-plus-year-old Chuck Katlic served his country at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-1945 with the 99th Division of the 394th Army Infantry. Mentioned in several articles and in one book, he has also been honored by Texas Governor Rick Perry for his service. This past May, he, along with other WWII veterans, was invited to tour the war memorials in Washington, D.C. “They scheduled an early lights out,” Chuck laughed. “Guess they know we are getting on up there.”

But, Parker County officials and citizens know this patriot for another reason. Chuck has been instrumental in placing over 80,000 flags in 150 cemeteries since 1999. Last Memorial Day, he once again solicited 80-90 students from local elementary schools in Weatherford to help place an American flag on the gravesite of every veteran. He will do the same thing on Veteran’s Day. “We’ll put out 900 to 1,000 flags. Mostly, the flags only last a few weeks,” he explained. “We try and pick some of them up before the mowers come through.”

Chuck buys the flags in bulk from a manufacturer outside of Chicago. He solicits donations once a year in The Weatherford Democrat, but many people throughout the year hear of his unique volunteer work and send him money to help offset the cost. “I try to find other veterans who are buried around here,” he said. Chuck researches the veterans and helps their loved ones, if he can locate them, fill out the Veteran Administration’s paperwork to get grave markers. “I know most of the county judges. They help me find the information.” He wanders through Parker County looking for names and researches each deceased veteran’s service to his or her country. “So far I have found 50 or more abandoned graveyards, mostly tucked way behind little churches or on farms,” Chuck stated. “We found one graveyard in Whitt with a Confederate veteran buried there.” Since that first find, they have found over 30 Civil War veterans.

Chuck also gets up in the wee hours of the morning to head for DFW Airport so he can greet the soldiers coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan. “I do it when I can,” he admitted. “I give them each a flag and tell them thank you.” But that is not all this chaplain of the Parker Country American Legion Post 163 does. He helps coordinate transportation for veterans. “The Legion has a van,” he explained. “I guess we make over 150 trips to Dallas and Fort Worth a year taking folks to clinics and doctors.” There are 23 volunteers who help in this effort.

The American Legion Post 163, along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4746, is in the process of building a Veterans Memorial Park on land donated by the city of Weatherford. People may buy a brick, which will be imprinted with their loved one’s name, to be laid along the path to the memorials. “This is not limited to veterans who have lived in Parker County. Anyone can donate a brick,” Chuck added.

This patriotic veteran makes good use of his days. He and others from the American Legion visit veterans in nursing homes and hospitals. Chuck is also happy to visit local schools and talk to the children about the war, his flag distribution and how to honor their flag. “I don’t hide my faith. I know the Almighty exists. I tell them the story about how when we were under heavy fire, I ducked in a fox hole. A voice as loud as can be told me to get out of there,” he remembered. “I dashed out and dove into another fox hole, just as a mortar shell hit the first one and blew it to kingdom come.”

Chuck also collects torn or faded American flags. On Flag Day, he helps conduct a flag disposal ceremony with local Boy Scout troops which reverently and properly retire flags in a pyre. He treats each flag he receives with honor, because it represents the country he has served for so long, first as a soldier, then as a veteran.

Chuck spent 38 years working in the shipyards in Baltimore, Maryland, after WWII. Then he traveled and volunteered in the national parks. In 1984, he spent time in Mexico with the Sari Indians, who were at one time cannibals. He has a photo of one family. “I found them on Christmas Eve,” he said. “They had a baby wrapped in a blanket in an apple crate. It reminded me of the Nativity.”

He has also written books on volunteerism in the national parks. “I want to write a book about my experiences. I found a lady who said she’d help me. It’s just a matter of finding the time. Maybe I need to go away to a mountain or something to get it done,” Chuck joked.

His wife, Ola, nodded. “We stay busy,” she chuckled.

“That’s why the house is a mess,” Chuck replied. “I need a 10-room house to display all my stuff.” What he calls stuff are priceless mementos, like a shadow box of his medals, pictures from the war, honors he has received — the list goes on. “Each November, for the whole month, the library gives us room to display our collection in a glass case right when you walk in. That’s something.”

Chuck, a widower, met widowed Ola in Donna, Texas, near the Mexico border. They just celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary. His house in Weatherford is easy to find. It’s the one surrounded in the front by American flags. Many of his neighbors’ front yards are peppered with them as well. He is happy to give a small flag to anyone who wants to put them in their yard. Interested residents can inquire at the American Legion Post 163 on Eureka Street. Also, if they have a loved one who was a veteran and they need help getting a VA marker for their grave, the Legion can help them out as well.

The secret to Chuck’s energy in spite of his years is obvious. His passion for life and his country is demonstrated by the twinkle in his eyes and the enthusiasm in his voice when he talks about his flag distribution and research into the lives of past veterans. He considers it his duty to make sure they are honored for their service. “Some of them never were in life,” he admitted. “Not all wars are popular. They should be honored now.”

Written Julie B. Cosgrove.