By Gini Davis – The Creswell Chronicle
Oregon Avenue and on veterans’ graves in Creswell’s Pioneer Cemetery as VFW Post and Auxiliary #4039 held their annual Memorial Day observance in front of the Veterans’ Memorial on South 1st Street.
The price paid for America’s freedoms by veterans, the fallen and their families was literally brought home with a moving tribute to Duane Hodges, one of four local fallen servicemen honored on Creswell’s memorial.
Hodges was the only crewmember killed during North Korea’s Jan. 23, 1968 attack on the USS Pueblo, an Army light cargo ship-turned oceanographic research/intelligence gathering vessel.
Hodges’ fellow crewmember and friend, Steven Woelk – one of about a dozen relatives of Hodges and Pueblo crewmembers in attendance – related the events of that day during Monday’s ceremony.
Woelk was topside with Hodges and two other crewmen, attempting to destroy classified materials “when all hell broke loose.”
Woelk took shrapnel and was seriously injured in the attack, was captured along with the other crewmembers, and released with them, and Hodges’ body, on Dec. 23, 1968.
“Duane was soft-spoken, had a deep voice, he was a good person, fun to be around, and had a great sense of humor. I don’t remember him ever talking bad about anyone,” Woelk said.
“I think of Duane often; he was a very good friend to all who knew him,” Woelk added. “He’s part of our nation’s history that’s being forgotten, and coming here to visit his resting place has for a long time been on my bucket list.”
A painting of the USS Pueblo was also presented by Jürgen Ramil and artist Richard W. DeRosset to Creswell Library Director Su Liudahl and Hodges’ cousin, Al January, for display in the library.
“We’re honored to have this painting in the library so this particular action is not forgotten – and I hope it will also represent all Creswell veterans and those who serve now and in the future, as a reminder that freedom is something paid for,” Liudahl said. “Libraries are known as bastions of intellectual freedom and equality, and that was earned for us, so we want to honor that.”
Veterans of America’s various wars, conflicts and actions were acknowledged; a history of Creswell’s fallen was read; America’s POW/MIAs were remembered; VFW Post members laid wreaths at the Veterans’ Memorial; and a rifle salute honored the fallen.
At a barbecue at the VFW Hall following the observance, Woelk spoke about what Pueblo crewmembers endured in captivity, and another Pueblo painting was presented to the VFW.
Ramil – a major organizer of the Hodges tribute – was also surprised with a painting. “I’m honored and humbled,” Ramil said.
Another painting, donated to the City, has been entrusted to Creswell Museum for display and safekeeping.
Later that afternoon, crewmembers and family attended a private memorial at the cemetery for Hodges.
As Post Commander Camren Baker reminded, all veterans – particularly the fallen – “have paid the supreme sacrifice for our way of life. Always remember that a veteran, living or dead, has guaranteed our freedom.”