Captain John L. Creech was a native of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He was a 1937 graduate of Woonsocket High School. John entered Rhode Island State College (now the University of Rhode Island) in 1937 and enrolled in the Army ROTC program. In 1941, John graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry. He was immediately called to active duty due to the growing crisis in Europe.
As a First Lieutenant, he served during World War II in the “Big Red One,” First Infantry Division, where he fought in the Allied invasion of North Africa. After the Allied landings in Tunisia in November 1942, First Lieutenant Creech was awarded the Silver Star for heroic actions on 25 March 1943 when he led a patrol deep into enemy lines. Captured shortly thereafter by General Rommel’s Africa Corps and taken prisoner, he and other prisoners of war were flown to Germany where they were sent to camp OFLAG 64 (Offizier Lager = Officers’ Camp) in Schubin, Poland. He remained a POW from 1943 until 1945.
While imprisoned, he applied his skills in horticulture and raised plants in a two- acre plot and in a 60-foot greenhouse to supplement the food for over 1,500 prisoners. In the Germans prison starvation was a constant threat. Through his leadership and horticultural skills, he managed to grow significant amounts of vegetables to feed his fellow captives. Creech received both the Silver Star, for gallantry in battle for his efforts during the mission in Africa, and the Bronze Star for his efforts in gardening activities in the camp. Creech had been heard to say that the Bronze Star for feeding his fellow prisoners meant more to him than his Silver Star for bravery.
Captain Creech’s military career ended in 1946, though he remained a reservist until 1953. Upon his return to the Unites States, he completed his academic work with a Masters Degree in Horticulture from the University of Massachusetts and a Doctorate in Botany from the University of Maryland. This last location brought him close to his ultimate career destination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). For 26 years he worked for the Agricultural Research Service, principally as a plant explorer specializing in the wild and cultivated woody plants of Asia.
Captain Creech was eventually appointed the third Director of the National Arboretum, a position he held for many years. Spontaneous, outgoing, unassuming, accessible and kind, he was a model ambassador for the Arboretum and its agenda. His work and friendships with Japanese horticultural authorities led to his efforts to institute a collection of Japanese Bonsai trees under the National Arboretum. His work directed the way to a permanent national collection of Bonsai within the National Arboretum and eventually the creation of a museum for Bonsai.
In 1979, Dr John L. Creech received the prestigious Scott Medal and Award given annually to an individual making outstanding national contributions to science and the art of gardening. John Creech has spent his entire life serving his community and nation during peace and war. His exemplary devotion to duty, personal bravery and outstanding leadership is in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his family and the University of Rhode Island.
Captain John L. Creech died on 7 August 2009. He was buried with full military honors in Columbus, North Carolina.