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Veteran honors his comrades on Memorial Day

In 1944, Dave Klement was set to enlist in the military to fight in World War II.

He found out at the same time that he was about to be drafted.

It was a patriotic time, Dave said, and he wanted to be a part of what he called "the war that was to end all wars."

So at age 18, he began his training in Idaho to become an apprentice seaman. When completed, he boarded the U.S.S. Eastland APA 163 as a rangefinder in the South Pacific and spent two years fighting in places such as the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. His job was to measure the distance between his ship and any incoming enemy fire so that artillery units could prepare accordingly.

"I wanted to be in the Navy," said Dave, now 80 and a Valley resident for more than 60 years. "I wanted to keep the country free."

For Memorial Day on May 29, Dave and his family will honor those who fought not only in World War II, but also in every war the country has faced, by participating in flag ceremonies at various local cemeteries as they have done for years.

"We can help quite a bit," he said. "Do something on Memorial Day that means something."

His wife of 53 years, Nona, said that though Dave still keeps in touch with many veterans, he rarely talks about experiences during the war with anyone outside that circle.

"I might have feelings, but I don't always know how to express them," he said, noting that he is at peace with his experiences but that he doesn't have a need to relive them. "Time goes by so fast."

For example, only recently did Dave tell his wife about his experience with a Japanese kamikaze pilot who took aim and missed her husband's ship before he was captured, Nona said.

"He was so close to him that he [Dave] could see the man's eyes and facial expression," she said. "I never knew that before."

Dave and Nona, members of the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) post 9476 and the Ladies Auxiliary VFW post 9476, have been involved in veteran services and support for many years.

They said they have seen a decline in veteran participation as the number of older veterans decreases and the more recent veterans are not joining veteran-support organizations in the same numbers.

Too often, veterans who laid their lives on the line are too soon forgotten, Dave said.

"We need to stick together," he added.

These organizations provide crucial support to veterans, said Kathy Kerr, local American Legion Auxiliary post No. 79 president, noting that 1,500 veterans are dying every day.

"We consider these organizations to be important and we hope others will carry on in their appreciation of what our veterans have done," Nona said.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there were about 671,000 civilian veterans in Washington as of the 2000 U.S. census; or 15 percent of the state population. Of these, about 104,000 were veterans of World War II (only Vietnam veterans have a higher population at 212,700).

"They faced a lot of things," said Dave's 50-year-old daughter Mary, who has been a member of the Ladies Auxiliary VFW since age 16. "We live through their stories because unless you've really been there, you can't know ... They have their own language. I watch them and I feel honored and proud. They have a lot of memories to share."

For the past 40 years, Dave has owned and operated Dave's Jewelry in Snoqualmie. Born on a homestead in Eastern Washington in January of 1926, Dave worked in Gig Harbor at local shipping yards after high school while training as an apprentice jeweler before entering the military.

Honorably discharged in August 1946, he said he was not injured during his time of service.

Dave moved to the Valley soon after, meeting Nona in 1953 on a blind date through mutual friends. He called that year the best of his life.

Never one to smoke or drink, he said he was healthy until he was diagnosed with bladder and skin cancer in 2004. Through treatment he beat it, but it returned early this year.

After another round of radiation treatments, the cancer has gone away and he is doing well, Nona said.

In addition to Mary, the couple has two other children in their 40s; Peggy, who is currently living in South Africa, and Dave Jr., who lives in Arkansas. They also have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Dave said that for as long as he can remember he has been putting out flags in local cemeteries this time of year. It is his way of giving back to the veteran community and keeping their memories alive.

"We just, more or less, have [had] a normal life, but we've been fortunate," Nona said.

Dave sees his service time as a part of the collective effort to protect freedom.

"I think a country should stay strong," he said. "My theory is to walk proudly and carry a big stick."

Local Memorial Day ceremonies on May 29 will be at 9 a.m. in Preston, 10 a.m. at the Fall City Cemetery and 11 a.m. at the North Bend Cemetery followed by a ceremony at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie.

For more information, call Kerr at (425) 831-5133 or the Klements at (425) 888-2905.

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