STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — Jack Koehler, who fled advancing Soviets as a boy in Germany during World War II, grew up to report from there for The Associated Press and served briefly in Ronald Reagan's White House, has died. He was 82.
Koehler died at his Stamford home Friday, months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, said Anne Cron, who was his closest friend.
Born in Dresden, Germany, Koehler served as an interpreter for a U.S. Army unit as a teen after fleeing Soviet forces during the war. After the war, he spent time in Canada before coming to the United States in 1954, where he served in the Army. His duties included intelligence work.
After joining the AP, Koehler was a news correspondent in Berlin and Bonn in his native country before returning to the U.S. to become chief of bureau in Newark, N.J., and work in New York. He retired in 1985 as assistant general manager and managing director of world services.
Koehler was friends with Reagan and served briefly in his administration, when it became public that Koehler had belonged to a Nazi youth group at age 10. He resigned after just a week on the job as White House communications director in 1987, but insisted he didn't leave because of publicity over his involvement in Jungvolk. He described the group as "the Boy Scouts run by the Nazi party." He said he resigned to give the newly named chief of staff his choice of team members.
Koehler went on to start an international consulting firm and held posts that took him overseas.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, he was hired by the U.S. Information Agency to travel to Pakistan, Paris and other capitals to assess the problems Afghan guerrillas faced in getting out their message and Western journalists had in trying to report on the conflict.
Later in life, Koehler wrote a pair of books, "Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police" and "Spies in the Vatican: The Soviet Union's Cold War Against the Catholic Church."
Cron said Koehler's patriotism probably got its start when he joined the U.S. troops in World War II, serving as something of a mascot for the soldiers in addition to being their interpreter. His birth name, Wolfgang, was legally changed to John after he emigrated, said his friend Heiko Thieme.
"He loved being an American," Cron said.
Thieme, who was friends with Koehler for three decades, said Koehler had a journalist's curiosity and a conservative outlook, and continued to engage in spirited political debates, even in his final days.
Visitation hours are planned for Friday. Koehler will be buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.