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One helluva cup of coffee

Local coffee shop honors unique soldier

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The comforting smell of coffee welcomes those who walk into the Java Flow in Tillicum.

The hardwood floors shine.

On the wall to the right is a framed movie poster promoting “We Were Soldiers Once,” starring Mel Gibson.  To the left of the poster — on the other side of a fireplace mantel — hangs an Air Medal citation.

That citation had been presented to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Alex Jekel.  It was one of 18 Air Medal citations he received during his career in the Army Air Corps and Army.

“My father served in World War II where he flew 32 combat missions over Germany,” said his granddaughter Stephanie Jekel.  “And then he served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot,” she added.

A part of that service occurred in November 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley.

Located near Pleiku in the central highlands of Vietnam, the battle in the Ia Drang Valley marked the first significant encounter between American and North Vietnamese soldiers in the Vietnam War. 

The battle has been recounted in the best-selling book “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young” by Lt. Gen. Harold Moore, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry that engaged the North Vietnamese, and Joseph Galloway, the reporter who covered the battle.

Moreover, the movie “We Were Soldiers Once” starring Gibson served to remind the public of what transpired during this first encounter between the Americans and North Vietnamese.

“My grandfather flew his Huey in and out of that landing zone,” said Stephanie as she stirred a cup of coffee.  “And he was later asked by Moore to be his pilot,” she added.

Just as proud of Jekel’s military service is his son, Chris Jekel.

“My father was a good, a wonderful, a loving man,” recounted Chris as he looked over the neat and clean coffee shop.  “But most important, he was humorous and loving,” he added.

Chris told several stories that illustrated his point.

“There were nine of us kids, and utilizing our time wisely in the bathroom was a priority,” he said with a grin.  “And sometimes Dad would leave a note which read, ‘Please stand close’ over the toilet ‘because the next man may be barefoot,’” he added with a hearty laugh.

Another story had to do with the time Jekel — who was shot down three times during his tour in Vietnam — was reported missing in action, or MIA.

“We got this note saying that he was missing,” related Chris as he recalled the day.  “Mom was pregnant with her ninth child, and I decided that I would not tell her,” he recalled.

A week later the family received a note saying, “Been shot down; I’m OK.”

“I used to think he had carbon copies of the note already prepared to send us for every time he went down,” said Chris with another laugh.

Clearly proud of the elder Jekel’s actions and life, the Jekels opened the Java Flow in Tillicum as a way to honor him and today’s soldiers.

“Every one of our soldiers today is special,” emphasized Stephanie as she stood up to wait on a customer.

“And if my grandfather were still here, he would be sitting here sipping a cup of coffee with you,” she added.

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