Not forgotten: Emotional POW/MIA ceremony held at Edmonds Veterans Plaza

By Brian Soergel | Sep 21, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel Kathy Strong looks on as Linda Brown receives a Michael Reagan drawing of her brother, James Moreland, who was killed in Vietnam.

After a surface-to-air missile slammed into his plane’s rear fuselage at 14,000 feet during a bombing mission over Vietnam, 1st Lt. Joseph Crecca thought he was a goner.

“You realize once you get shot at that this is not a game,” he said Sept. 15 during a National POW/MIA Day ceremony at the new Edmonds Veterans Plaza, dedicated on Memorial Day. “It’s not the movies. This is a real thing, and there’s thousands of bad guys doing everything they possibly can to kill you.”

His death was postponed, of course, but as he broke through the clouds under his parachute, he glimpsed the plane’s burnt and smoking wreckage. He also watched as his co-pilot’s lifeless body slowly floated down. He, too, had ejected, but had been hit bad.

As soon as Crecca tumbled to the ground, villagers assaulted him with clubs.

“I didn’t think I would get captured,” the 76-year-old, who lives in North Bend, told those attending the ceremony. “I was a 26-year-old hotshot fighter pilot. Nothing could happen to me.”

It was Nov. 22, 1966.

Crecca saw a glint of metal and assumed his head was coming off. But villagers instead sliced off his chin strap and stripped off his clothes. It was the worst day of Crecca’s life, but there was more to come.

Blindfolded, he was hustled to Hanoi and dropped repeatedly onto a concrete floor as the enemy demanded information. Crecca told lies. Confined to eight months of solitary confinement, he struggled to keep a grip on his sanity, running through memory drills – recalling U.S. presidents in order, reeling off state names and their capitals – and recalling classical music.

Crecca was released Feb. 18, 1973, after six years and three months in various prisoner-of-war camps, including the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

On Friday, Crecca said the dead co-pilot from that fateful day in 1966 was his friend, Gordon Scott “Scotty” Wilson who, like Crecca, was 26. Wilson left behind a wife and young daughter. He was MIA eight years, but his remains were returned to the U.S. in 1986, when Crecca gave the eulogy at the Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

Other speakers

Any veterans’ ceremony in Edmonds without Mike Reagan is incomplete. On Friday, the Edmonds resident told his Vietnam story, of losing friends, of nightmare scenarios that haunt his days still. Reagan is today best known for his Fallen Heroes Project, sketchings of military men and women killed in combat. He’s completed more than 5,000 now, including one he commissioned especially for the POW/MIA ceremony.

He presented that portrait to the younger sister of Spec. 5 James Moreland, listed as MIA in Vietnam Feb. 7, 1968. How it came to be is inspiring. A Walnut Creek, California, woman named Kathy Strong – at age 12 – was given a stainless-steel bracelet engraved with Moreland’s name. These simple steel bracelets, with the names of those missing in action, were popular in the last years of the Vietnam War.

Strong vowed that she wouldn’t take the bracelet off until Moreland’s remains were found and properly interred. Later in life, Strong discovered that on June 5, 1978, Moreland was legally declared dead and posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action.

She also found out that Moreland’s two sisters lived in Puget Sound. They told her that a survivor of Lang Vei, where Moreland had fought, was able to guide searchers to the bunker where he was last seen alive. DNA tests confirmed that remains found were Moreland’s.

At his funeral service on May 14, 2011, Strong removed her bracelet for the first time.

On Friday, Linda Brown, Moreland’s younger sister, tearfully accepted Reagan’s drawing of her brother.

Also speaking at the ceremony was Dan Doyle, a Navy corpsman in Vietnam and a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8870, which sponsored the event with the Edmonds American Legion.

Doyle spoke of the many indignities returning Vietnam War service members suffered. That wasn’t an issue Friday, as each speaker left the podium to a standing ovation.

After the ceremony, representatives of the Washington State Chapter of Gold Star Moms – whose members have lost a son or daughter in combat – presented commemorative medals to all Vietnam veterans at the ceremony.

 

 

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