POW/MIA ceremony Sept. 15 at Edmonds Veterans Plaza

By Richard Simmons | Sep 14, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel Bruce Nickolson compiled all the information for inscriptions at the Edmonds Veterans Plaza, including his own.

Some spent years in prison camps. Some never came back.

Edmonds Veterans Plaza, dedicated on Memorial Day, will observe national POW/MIA Day 6:30 Friday, Sept. 15 in a ceremony sponsored by Edmonds American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8870.

Joe Crecca, an Air Force F4C Phantom pilot who spent six years as a North Vietnamese Army POW for six years, is the guest speaker. Crecca, 76, was shot down in 1966 and spent more of his captivity in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

“I was released on February 18 1973, in the second group of POWs sometimes known as ‘Kissinger's Twenty,’ since we were the men that balked at our

release because we were not sure the U.S. government had really agreed to the terms of our release,” he wrote on the www.pownetwork.org website.

“At Clarke AFB the hospital staff thought I had malaria, and I was held over for a long two days. It wasn't malaria, fortunately, but they didn't want to take any chances.”

Crecca, who grew up in New Jersey, now lives in North Bend.

Bruce Nickolson

Bruce Nickolson will certainly be on hand for the ceremony Friday.

About a year and a half ago, he agreed to take on a project that even the most civic minded of us might turn down for the sake of our own sanity. He volunteered to assist the Veterans Plaza team by creating a plan to compile data and manage the process of engraving the names of the veterans, both living and dead, on the brass bench plaques, pavers and seating cubes that define the Plaza.

To put that in perspective, it mean engraving the names, services, rates, ranks, years served and wars served of the men and women on the 22 brass plaques on metal benches, the 32 faces of the seating cubes and the 230 paver stone that comprise the individual human aspect of the Plaza.

“I’m a detail kind of person,” Nickolson said. “I like working with spread sheets and numbers. This project took a lot of that and it took a lot of personal contact, too. Especially on the pavers.”

The stone paver process started with a form that the purchaser filled out, describing what he or she wanted engraved on the stone: name, service, rate or rank, war and years served.

It was his responsibility to make sure everything would fit and completed in accordance with the donors’ wishes.

To his credit, and his meticulous attention to details, the engraving process came off with perfection.

Nickolson has experience in getting things done right. His 37-year career in the Navy spanned the era from the Korean Conflict to the war in Vietnam. During much of that time he served as an enlisted flight engineer with a transport squadron of C118 Liftmaster aircraft that provided logistics support, freight and personnel to submarines and carriers throughout the world. His final assignment was serving as a Navy Command Master Chief for two aviation squadrons.

Nickolson has a lot of stories to tell about his time in the service, but one of his more memorable flights was one from Vietnam to Hawaii where he delivered an unusual cargo.

“In Vietnam, porpoises were trained to do reconnaissance for suspicious river activity. We were assigned to fly seven porpoises and their handlers to the Kaneohe Bay Marine Air Station on Oahu for R&R. We had to place two layers of plywood to the cabin floor and loaded seven tank and seven porpoises. Each one had its own handler and if the porpoises got restless the handlers would calm them down.”

Nickolson said he is looking forward to the POW/MIA Observances at the Plaza on the 15th both for the recognition they give to those who were prisoners of war and those whose remains have yet to be found, but also because the final 27 pavers have been completed and are ready to be installed.

Kathy Strong

The people attending the POW/MIA Observances at the Plaza on Sept. 15 will include Kathy Strong. Kathy doesn’t live in Edmonds, but she has a unique connection to it, just as she does to certain places in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina.

Strong’s quest is all about those who are still “Missing In Action.”

It was 38 years ago, when she was 12, that Kathy found a stainless-steel bracelet in her Christmas stocking. On it was engraved the name of a Green Beret missing in action: Spec. 5 James Moreland, 2-7-68.

These simple steel bracelets, engraved with the names of those missing in action, were all the rage in the last years of Vietnam War. Everyone from Ronald Reagan to Sonny and Cher wore them. But that fad, like most, eventually faded away and the bracelets, if not lost, were consigned to the backs of drawers in bedroom dressers.

Strong’s was an exception.

She made a vow, the day she put on her bracelet, that she would never take it off until the remains of James Moreland, a man she had never met, were found and properly interred. Later in life, when she injured her left wrist, where she wore the bracelet, the surgeon told her it would have to come off to perform the operation.

Strong delayed the operation and found another surgeon, a Vietnam veteran who understood. On the operating table, he had her clasp her hands together. He slid the bracelet from her left wrist to her right, ensuring that it would never leave her body. Later, after the swelling subsided, the same surgeon simply reversed the procedure and returned the bracelet to her left wrist.

With the introduction of the internet, Storng was able to learn more about the person whose name she had worn on her wrist for so many years.

James Moreland had been a paratrooper and medic during the Battle of Lang Vei, a Special Forces outpost near Khe Sanh Combat Base. In the dead of night, on Feb. 6, 1968, as part of the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese Army mounted its first armored offensive of the war. At least seven tanks and a large infantry force had managed to sneak up on Lang Vei, which was defended by two-dozen Green Berets and a few hundred indigenous troops.

As the tanks broke through the perimeter wire, Moreland was hit in the head while trying to retrieve an M60 machine gun from the camp’s observation tower. He was dragged into an underground command bunker, where six or seven Green Berets held out all night and into the next day, even as the camp was overrun and grenades exploded around them.

By the time they were able to escape, everyone in the bunker was wounded. Moreland’s comrades were unable to carry him out, as he had become delirious and struggled against them, requiring sedation with morphine.

Some accounts say that he was still alive when the Green Berets fought their way out, while others reported that he was already dead. It was too risky to go back to recover his body. On June 5, 1978, Moreland was legally declared dead and posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action.

The internet also led Strong to Moreland’s two sisters, who lived in Seattle. They promised to contact her if there were any new developments.

Twenty years passed before a survivor of Lang Vei was able to guide searchers to the bunker where Moreland was last seen alive. Human remains were found and sent to Hawaii to await DNA testing. In January 2011, Strong finally got the call from his sisters that “James is coming home.”

At Moreland’s funeral on May 14, 2011, Strong removed her bracelet for the first time. She placed it in Moreland’s coffin. A soldier in attendance handed her a Special Forces bracelet to replace it. She put it on her right wrist and has not removed it.

Strong is still committed to the cause she’s supported for so many years. “That’s what faith is all about,” she said. “Believing in something you cannot see.”

And in a POW/MIA Recognition Day speech he delivered during his years as Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta had this to say about Kathy: “Kathy Strong should inspire us all. For it should not just be a few among us that help families carry the torch year after year, decade after decade, for those who are missing. It needs to be all of us.”

Strong’s paver commemorating James Moreland’s ultimate sacrifice will be placed in the Edmonds Veterans Plaza on Friday. Washington will be the 10th state where she has done this.

Richard Simmons is the adjutant at Edmonds VFW Post 8870.

 

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