Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, August 14, 2022

In Memoriam: World War One Centennial Commissioner Jerry Hester

By Editor/Publisher Mike Hanlon

Jerry and Sherry Hester Selling the Mission

One of the most inexhaustible and effective soldiers in the effort to honor the Americans who served and sacrificed their nation in the First World War has left us. My friend and fellow Air Force veteran  Jerry Hester passed away on 5 August 2022 at age 90. He was one of the most active members of the World War One Centennial Commission, possibly because he had the longest commitment to the cause. Jerry had previously served as Chairman of the 70th Anniversary World War One National Committee and had never lost his enthusiasm for its history. He was ready for the Centennial and embraced the mission.

Of course, as with everyone associated with the commemoration, Commissioner Hester was determined to see that national memorial completed in our nations capital. I know he was delighted to see that come to pass. Jerry, however, also had at least three specialties at which he worked with extreme dedication through the Centennial.

1.  Over Here:  Jerry was a tireless encourager of commemorations and reflections on the war in his home state of North Carolina. Whether it involved the state's memorial wildflower program or remembering the war's fallen from his alma mater, North Carolina State, he was in the middle of the action. While I don't know of the specifics of his involvement,  I don't think it's any accident North Carolinians did one of the best jobs of a state in documenting their wartime experience during the Centennial.

2.  Over There:  Jerry Hester was one of the two or three most travelingest of the Centennial Commissioners during the commemorative period, representing America in  events at such famous places as at Belleau Wood, Versailles, the Somme, Reims, the Argonne Forest, and Flanders.  He also lent support for European-initiated projects, such as the restoration of the American Memorial Church at Chateau-Thierry.

Jerry Hester Presents a Painting of the Goetller/Bleckley DH-4 on Its Lost Battalion Mission to the 50th Attack Squadron, Successor to the 50th Aero Squadron

3.  Honoring U.S. Aviation:  Being a former Air Force aviator, Jerry spent the largest part of his time remembering and honoring the air effort of the Yanks.  Two of his efforts stand out for me. Less known than Frank Luke or Eddie Rickenbacker, Lieutenants Erwin Bleckley and Harold Goettler also received Medals of Honor, though posthumously, for their support of the Lost Battalion.  Jerry regularly made efforts to make sure these men were remembered by their nation, the Air Force, and in France, where they served and died.

By far, however, Jerry Hester's most visible and, I think, personally demanding effort was in serving as chair of the working group that raised the final share of the $14 million cost for the restoration of the magnificent Lafayette Escadrille Memorial and Cemetery at Marnes-la-Coquette outside Paris. Fifteen years ago when I first visited what is today the shining structure shown below, it was greying, leaking, sinking, and fracturing. Jerry's group of boosters and fundraisers and the American Battle Monuments Commission staff who did the heavy managerial lifting are responsible for this wonderful restoration that every American ought to be proud of.


I corresponded and occasionally spoke with Jerry Hester for most of this century. I always wanted to tell him in-person how much I  appreciated his advice and background briefings. Unfortunately, we never seemed to cross paths. Then, the day before the photo below was taken,  I was delivering a battlefield tour group to our hotel in Reims for the day, and looked up to see him approaching with some of my group, one of whom called out, "This fellow say he knows you, Mike!" And there, smiling, was Jerry. We spent a happy evening catching up on things. I got to tell him just what I thought of all the things he did to remember and honor America's efforts in the Great War.

Jerry Hester (L.) with Fellow Commissioner Thomas Moe and Vice-Chairman Edwin Fountain in Flanders, 5 August 2018

My ally on World War I matters led an interesting an enormously productive life. I thought it best to include his obituary in this article so I didn't leave out something important.


Jerry Looper Hester, 90, went to be with his Lord and Savior on Friday, August 5, 2022 following a brief illness.

Jerry was born August 13, 1931, in High Point, NC to the late Walter Filmore Hester, Sr and Rebecca Crowder Hester. He grew up in a loving Christian family with four brothers and two sisters, where his interest in American History and appreciation for Military Service was encouraged. He and all his brothers became Eagle Scouts, which, at the time, was a National record for a single family. Jerry graduated from N.C. State University in 1953 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, then served in the U.S. Air Force as Airborne Electronics Officer with the 429th Fighter Bomber Squadron during the Korean conflict. Jerry worked in the Aerospace Defense Industry for over 15 years, then began his own firm in 1965 with a focus on international military support in Europe, Middle East, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. He married Sharon (Sherry) Lee Gilbert in 1968.

In 1998, Jerry returned to Winston-Salem, NC purchasing and developing the former East Kent property of John Reynolds where they lived for 22 years until moving to SalemTowne Retirement Community in 2020.

Jerry was appointed by Congress in 2013 as a founding board member for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission. He was also the former Chairman of the 70th Anniversary WW1 National Committee. In it’s official statement the Commission said, “He was committed to honoring the 4.7 million Americans that served in the War that Changed the World and to the establishment of a National WW1 Memorial in Washington, DC, which at the time, was the only global conflict of the 20th century not recognized with its own Memorial in our Nation’s Capital.”

Commissioner Jerry Hester at an Event in France

On April 16, 2021, Jerry saw his tireless advocacy realized at the First Colors Ceremony, where the WW1 Centennial Commission raised the flag of the United States of America over the new National WW1 Memorial. Included was a flyover by his beloved U.S. Air Force with two F-22 aircraft from the 94th Fighter Squadron, a legacy squadron from WW1.

Jerry was predeceased by his wife of 53 years, Sharon (Sherry) Gilbert Hester; and three brothers, Walter Hester Jr, Robert Hester, and Dr. Joseph Hester.

He is survived by six children, Vicki Vanderburg (Garry), Marshall Hester (Rachel), Dawn Moffitt (Kermit), Richard Hester (Lori), Camilla Rocco (John), and Stuart Hester; the mother of his children, Alice Garrett Hester; two sisters, Becky Wyatt, Margaret Wigglesworth and brother, Scott Hester; as well as,18 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren.

A Celebration of Jerry’s life will be held on Saturday, August 20, 2022 at 1pm in the Sechrest-Davis Chapel, High Point, NC. Presiding will be Dr. Rick Speas and Dr. Robert Steele. Burial will follow in Floral Garden Park Cemetery. The family will receive friends in the funeral home an hour prior to the service.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to Old Town Baptist Church, 4386 Shattalon Dr., Winston Salem, NC 27106.


  1. Mike, this is a beautiful tribute to our dear friend Jerry. I shared it with his family. Thank you. Meredith

  2. I missed a few days reading Roads and just saw this. Sad to read.

  3. The grand and great grandchildren of 1861-65 fought 1917-18.

  4. Nicely done, Mike, a perfect tribute to a truly great man. Jerry was a patriot and a wonderful friend to all of us who served. We'll all miss his smile, his humor, and his get-it-done attitude.

  5. What is it Ludendorff said after Richthofen’s passing? He was worth three divisions? That was certainly Jerry’s worth to our common cause. He’ll certainly be missed.

  6. I co-chaired along with Jerry the placement of a monument in Nauroy, France, where the 30th Division of the North Carolina National Guard broke the Hindenburg Line, September 29, 1918. The single most deadly day for North Carolinas sons, more KIA than 2nd day at Gettysburg. Thanks to Jerry, we have a nice monument to recognize the sacrifice. A true, true gentleman in every way.