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Valley honors its veterans

In a solemn, emotional moment, Snoqualmie veteran Bob Hamerly rings the Snoqualmie centennial bell once for each of the 59 men and women of the Valley who died while serving their country. - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
In a solemn, emotional moment, Snoqualmie veteran Bob Hamerly rings the Snoqualmie centennial bell once for each of the 59 men and women of the Valley who died while serving their country.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

The term “sacrifice” was spoken time and again at a gathering of more than 100 people to honor military members and celebrate the groundbreaking of the Valley’s new veteran’s memorial. The monument will be placed next to the American Legion Post in Snoqualmie.

In these tough economic times, many Americans are sacrificing something, but few give up as much as those who serve in the armed forces. The new memorial will honor those who paid the ultimate price for the greater good of their country.

It will also serve as “a symbol of hope and life,” said Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson at the packed Veterans Day event, Tuesday, Nov. 11.

“It makes you kind of take a deep breath and realize, there could be much greater sacrifices than losing my home or losing my job,” Larson told the crowd, made up of veterans, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and dozens of other community members.

They had come together at the American Legion Renton-Pickering Post #79, which Post Commander Steve Fenton called “truly a gathering place of veterans” because members of the VFW and the Vietnam Veterans of America meet there.

“It is fitting that this memorial will be located here,” Fenton said.

He said that while there are a few memorials in the Valley to honor veterans of a specific war or conflict, this memorial “will honor the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women of our Valley who have served in all of our nation’s wars and conflicts, as well as peacetime.

“This memorial will be sacred to us,” he said.

Fenton thanked the veterans in attendance for their service, and reminded everyone that “any day you are alive and free in America is a day to be thankful.”

A bell rings

Emotion ran heavy in the hall as Kathy Kerr, president of Post #79’s auxiliary unit, read aloud the names of the 59 men and women of the Valley who died in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. World War II veteran Bob Hamerly, who has served as a volunteer with the Post for more than 60 years, chimed a bell after each name was called.

Members of the crowd were also moved by the story of North Bend resident Joe Crecca, whom Fenton recognized as a six-year prisoner of war in Vietnam.

In an interview after the ceremony, Crecca said he was captured by the North Vietnamese after Russian troops hit his two-man F-4 fighter plane with a surface-to-air missile in 1966.

Crecca was in the back seat when the jet was hit, and the front seater yelled at him to eject.

They were flying at 14,000 feet, and after about 4,000 feet of free fall, the men’s parachutes opened.

Moments later, a second missile struck the pilot’s chute, killing him.

Crecca landed in the Tam Dao area, about 25 miles north-northwest of the capital city of Hanoi, and was captured by North Vietnamese troops.

Asked if his captors respected Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners, Crecca responded, “not even close.”

Getting through

“What got me through it,” he said, “were four pillars: faith in God, country, family and self. You have to add to that two big crossbeams: a sense of humor, and a good education.”

A graduate of the Newark College of Engineering, Crecca gave lessons to eight fellow P.O.W.’s who didn’t have college degrees, teaching physics, automotive theory and practice, advanced math and classical music. Other prisoners taught classes including languages and wine selection, and they even selected a dean of their makeshift school.

“There were 45, 50 guys in one room. We had all this knowledge,” he said.

Crecca said he wouldn’t have survived his 2,280 days of imprisonment without the lessons.

“What else do you do? You and I could tell stories for how many months before I’m tired of your stories, you’re tired of mine.”

Crecca was finally released during Operation Homecoming on February 18, 1973.

After serving a total of 14 years in the Air Force, Crecca became a commercial pilot and retired from Federal Express in 2005.

Crecca speaks of his service in a matter-of-fact manner, but expressed pride and surprise at the large Veterans Day turnout to honor Valley heroes.

“It’s unbelievable. Look at how many people were here. When Steve told me about this, I thought it would just be a few guys. I was amazed.”

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