John Beal is a veteran who served his country in the Vietnam War, and he deserved to be able to relax when he returned home to his family in Seattle, Washington. Sadly, his health did not cooperate, and he suffered three heart attacks within the year after he got home.
Doctors at the VA hospital told him that he had severe PTSD, and they said that his health was so bad that he had just four months to live. With the time that he had left, one doctor recommended that he “get a hobby,” so John went about trying to find something to do.
He found his hobby when he went to Hamm Creek to think about his future and saw how yellow the water was from pollution. The water had been contaminated by a nearby sewage plant, and it was full of broken cars, dead fish, and rotting debris. Anyone who swam in the water would end up covered in rashes, so people were told to avoid it at all costs.
John’s daughter Liana explained that her father was so inspired by the creek that he came up with an idea.
“He thought, well, I did a lot of damage in Vietnam, so why not clean up where I am now before I pass?” she said.
John decided to clean the creek himself, and he began by removing all of the trash. It was then that he realized that aquatic life could not survive in the creek because the water flow continued into a series of underground pipes, so he removed these pipes as well. John still sometimes got overwhelmed by his new “way of life,” but he fought through this to continue towards his goal.
It took many years, but finally, Hamm Creek has become a wildlife oasis that is full of 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 afterwards. “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.”
John ended up far surpassing the predictions of his doctors and living until he passed away 27 years later in 2006. Since then, conservationists have honored his memory by continuing to keep Hamm Creek clean!