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Though John Beal was able to make it home to his family after the Vietnam war, he was still in dire straits – not because of the gunfire, but because of his health, a story that was first told by KUOW’s RadioActive Youth Media program at Puget Sound Public Radio.
After settling in with his family in Seattle, Washington, the veteran suffered three heart attacks within a year of returning from the war.
At the VA hospital, he was not only told that he had PTSD, but the doctor said that he only had about four more months to live – so the doctor recommended that he “get a hobby”.
As a means of clearing his head, Beal walked to Hamm Creek to contemplate his future. Though he was being faced with an immediate death, he took particular notice of how polluted the waterway was. The yellowed water, which had been sullied by a nearby sewage plant, was filled with broken cars, dead fish, and rotting debris. Local children would caution people to avoid getting into the water, otherwise they might emerge from the creek covered in rashes.
But according to Beal’s daughter Liana, the creek inspired her father.
“He thought, well, I did a lot of damage in Vietnam, so why not clean up where I am now before I pass?” she recalled to KUOW.
Beal started cleaning the river by removing all the trash and garbage. He then realized that aquatic wildlife were still unable to survive in the creek because the water flow continued into a series of underground pipes – so he removed the pipes.
Even though he sometimes got overwhelmed by his new “way of life,” the determined veteran persevered.
After years of work, Hamm Creek is now a flourishing wildlife oasis that is resplendent with healthy greenery and wild salmon.
“I was told the first year that I took this job on that you can’t change it, you’ll never bring it back to what it was,” John said in a video quoted by KUOW. “Well, it is restored.
“You can do anything you want if you possess an idea with a passion. If you pursue that, and if you stick with it long enough, you’ll change the world.”
As fate would have it, Beal passed away in 2006 – which is 27 years later than the doctor’s original prognosis. In the years after his passing, conservationists have honored him for his work and labored to carry on his legacy so Hamm Creek can improve the lives of other people the same way it saved Beal.
Clean Up Negativity By Sharing The Good News With Your Friends On Social Media – Photo by John Hogg / World Bank, and Chesapeake Bay Program, CC license