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Moment of truth nears for Snoqualmie Valley vet’s monument
Forty-three years ago this month, Marty Kester survived the worst that the Viet Cong could throw at him during the Tet Offensive.
A 23-year-old weather observer and artillery spotter with the United States Air Force, Kester witnessed the sneak attack in Hue and Phu Bai during one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.
“That was not good,” Kester summed up his experience. “It’s one of those things you forget for a reason.”
When his tour was up, Kester rotated home, leaving the Air Force in 1969—one of the worst times to be a veteran and an ex-soldier. At an off-base latrine outside of Travis Air Force Base in California, a long-haired patron had the nerve to call him “nothing but a hired killer.”
“We weren’t getting any respect, coming back from Vietnam,” Kester, a three-decade North Bend resident, remembers. “The guys who came back from ‘Nam had this stigma, this cloud, over the top of their heads, especially in ‘68 and ‘69. We were the bad guys, as far as the students were concerned.”
Today, the atmosphere has changed for vets like Kester. Americans draw together to support the troops; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, finished in 1982, gives those affected by that conflict a place to come together.
Kester, who owns Mr. K’s Construction in North Bend, is doing his part to give the Valley just such a place. Kester is donating his time and resources as the builder of the new Snoqualmie Valley Veterans Memorial.
Slated to open this Veteran’s Day, the monument recognizes all local men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. The monument replaces and continues the legacy of older veteran’s monuments spread throughout the Valley.
Forty years ago, such a monument would have made a world of difference to Kester.
“It brings to your heart the reason why I’m standing here, and somebody else isn’t,” he said. “You feel that camaraderie. You’re not alone.”
Nearly ready to roll
With help from Kester, as well as landscape architect Jack Johnson with Outdoor Studio LLC and architect Stewart Germain of Miller Hull—who are also providing services pro bono—construction on the memorial is expected to begin this spring.
After a three-year fundraising campaign, the Snoqualmie Valley Veteran’s Memorial Committee has raised nearly $34,000, enough to start work. The group raised $10,000 alone in a gala dinner and auction held on Veteran’s Day 2010. Major contributors include the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9476, the Snoqualmie Tribe, the Whitaker Foundation, the Lions Club and the Fraternal Order of Freemasons.
The group was raising funds in one of the most challenging economic environments. At first, the going was slow.
“All of a sudden, bang!” said committee member and veteran Lee Prewitt. “I’ve been surprised by how suddenly it came together. We had Marty and (the architects) come on board, money started coming in.
But it won’t be unstoppable until we cut the ribbon.”
November 11, 2011—11-11-11— is the “absolute date” to dedicate the memorial, committee member Kathy Kerr said. To get there, the group is continuing to push on fundraising, campaigning for memorial brick sales to fill out its plaza and seeking donations to pay for upkeep and maintenance. For instance, Kerr and company are approaching the Seattle Mariners in hopes of starting a matching-funds rivalry with memorial supporters on the Seattle Seahawks. She’s also seeking a $15,000 grant from the state patriotic license plate fund.
“We need to push bricks sales,” said Kerr, who wants enough to make an impact. “We could always use help.”
What is the monument?
Right now, the monument is just a plan on paper and in the heads of the committee members. But soon, Kester and company will start work, transforming a grassy, open space at the American Legion post, next door to the Snoqualmie post office, into a shaded, grassy space for reflection as well as education.
Committee members combed the pages of the Valley Record, the Weyerhaeuser newsletter and other sources, gathering more than 70 names of locals who fell in service to their nation.
For such modest communities, “We said, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of names,” Kerr said.
The names will be inscribed on a block of stone, whose peak will be cut by Quiring Monuments into the shape of Mount Si. The monument will be visible from the street, but visitors must enter the park to see the names.
The United States and armed services flags will fly, and a legacy tree, a plane or sycamore planted as a living memorial, will be surrounded by boulders from each Valley community.
“We’re actually bringing the Valley in,” Germain said. “It’s multiple levels of symbolism.”
The stone wall will be built from stone excavated from under Snoqualmie Falls during the current hydropower plant remodel.
“It’s about as local as you can get,” Kerr said.
Kester, Germain and Johnson said their donation of work is important and personally relevant.
“The Valley’s helped us,” Kester said. “The people in this Valley are behind veterans. They embrace them. It was easy for me to say yes.”
To Germain, the monument “brings an important subject downtown. It adds to the city.”
“It’ll raise awareness for people who aren’t expecting it, who maybe have forgotten about veterans in their own families,” Johnson added. “When you walk to the front door of city hall, you’re looking right at the monument.
“Anything on this level of symbolism and grassroots, we take very seriously,” he added. “The mission that these people are carrying forward is serious, it’s important to get that story out. They’re going to have repercussions 100 years down the line.”
Buy a brick
Fundraising efforts continue for the Snoqualmie Valley Veterans Memorial, including the memorial brick sales.
For $100, a brick paver can be inscribed with the name of any loved one who served the nation, regardless of whether the Snoqualmie Valley was their home.
To order a brick or get involved, contact committee chairwoman Chris Chartier at (425) 888-9152 or by cell at (425) 802-5174. Or, e-mail her at email@example.com.