Service members often jokingly say that military intelligence is an oxymoron.
But to U.S. Army Gen. Oscar Koch, Gen. George S. Patton's chief intelligence officer during World War II, military intelligence was never a laughing matter - because he knew it could save lives.
Koch is featured in "Patton's Oracle: Gen. Oscar Koch, as I Knew Him," by Robert Hays, a U. of I. professor emeritus of journalism.
The book is a personal account of how Hays was enlisted by Koch in the 1960s to help write a book about the retired general's wartime experiences and the groundbreaking intelligence-gathering techniques he is credited with developing.
"Oscar Koch and I were linked for a few hours through mere coincidence, and that few hours led to a few days and then to months and years," Hays writes. "His influence on me has lasted for a lifetime."
Their chance meeting resulted in the book, "G-2: Intelligence for Patton," first published in 1971. That book was a more practical revisiting of intelligence-gathering processes, with Koch using his own notes and records to paint an accurate picture.
Among the bombshells in the book was the claim that Patton wasn't surprised by the "surprise" offensive launched by the German army in 1944 near the Ardennes mountains - a bloody and decisive battle for the U.S. that would become known as The Battle of the Bulge.
Up until Koch's account, most military historians had believed that the German offensive was the result of failed intelligence. In fact, as he and the historical record proved, the intelligence was correct but ignored at the highest levels - except by Patton, who developed a counteroffensive and won the day based on the information and intense fighting.
The example is an illustration of Koch's mantra of wartime intelligence: Judge an enemy's capabilities, not its intentions.
"Patton's Oracle" describes how the author became friends with Koch while they were writing "G-2," their long journey to find a publisher, and how Hays discovered this war hero was in fact a simple, unassuming, yet brilliant man who had been called upon to do great things during an era of world war.
Koch was born in 1897 and in 1915 joined the Light Horse Association, led by John J. Pershing and famed for chasing Mexican General Pancho Villa following his raid in New Mexico. From there Koch served in several capacities, working his way to brigadier general and eventually to the military intelligence hall of fame. After the war he would be called upon to overhaul the Central Intelligence Agency.
His attention to detail also had gotten Patton's attention, with Patton choosing him again and again to serve as his wartime chief intelligence officer.
Hays' book mentions several first-hand accounts of interactions between Koch and Patton.
"I want ... you to understand that I do not judge the efficiency of an officer by the calluses on his butt," Patton is said to have said to Koch during one of his first assignments with "The Old Man."
"I learned, too," Hays writes in "Patton's Oracle," "that (Koch) was reluctant to seek credit for his own extraordinary contributions for fear that he might diminish the luster of the Patton name. The more time I spent with Gen. Koch, the more my own respect for Patton grew."
Koch died before Hays could find a publisher for his work (eventually accepted by an Army Times publisher), but Hays said the general would have been proud of how well it eventually was received - and continues to be in subsequent reprints.
"It has, for all practical purposes, become the textbook the general had in mind long before I became involved," Hays said. "It is on a variety of required reading lists throughout the military services, and I learned that it was used as a text in the intelligence training program at Fort Drum, N.Y. Most satisfying to Gen. Koch would be the cadre of papers and student research reports at the U.S. Army War College, Air University and elsewhere in the service schools that draw on the book as a solid launch point for better intelligence training. He would see each of these as a tribute to his firm conviction that intelligence officers are made, not born."