Wood-Ridge, NJ – On Tuesday, October 7, 2014, the Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey held its 42nd Annual Hall of Fame Induction Dinner at the Fiesta Ballroom in Wood-Ridge, NJ. This tribute dinner honors local aviation pioneers and financially supports the hall of fame and museum, located on Fred Wehran Drive in Teterboro, NJ. It is one of the museum’s biggest fund raising events of the year.
Founded in 1972, the Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey is dedicated to the preservation of the Garden State’s distinguished, two-century aviation and space heritage. Men and women whose outstanding aeronautical achievements have brought worldwide recognition to the state are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Meridian is a proud supporter of the museum, and representatives of the company enjoy attending the induction dinner every year. Ken Forester, Sr., who founded Meridian with Bob Hewitt back in 1946, was himself inducted into the hall of fame in 2008. He was also in attendance on Tuesday evening.
This event recognized three individuals who are connected to New Jersey and who have each uniquely contributed to the advancement of human flight.
The NJ Hall of Fame 2014 Inductees were:
Maj. Joseph Crecca (Born 1940)
Born and raised in New Jersey, Crecca graduated from Bloomfield High School and went on to earn a B.S. degree from Newark College of Engineering in 1962. He entered the USAF in 1964 and began flight training. He finished Officer’s Training School as a Distinguished Military Graduate. After being certified as an F-4C Phantom Weapons Systems Officer, Crecca shipped out to Vietnam in July of 1966. In November of that year, after flying 87 combat missions, his aircraft was shot down over enemy territory by a Surface to Air missile. He was captured and spent the next six years and three months incarcerated by the North Vietnamese; including time spent in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” P.O.W. camp. After release in 1973 Crecca went through jet requalification in the T-38 and then became an F-4E pilot. For the next four years he was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where, in addition to flying, he held a number of leadership positions.
In 1978 Crecca left the Air Force to become a commercial pilot. He received a position at Flying Tigers and went on to fly the DC-8 and 747. In 1989 Flying Tigers was merged into Federal Express. At Federal Crecca flew MD-11’s as First Officer and Captain. After reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60 for pilots he continued as a Flight Engineer on DC-10’s before retiring in 2005.
Medals awarded to Crecca include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, eight Air Medals, two Purple Hearts, the Prisoner of War Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of gallantry with Palm.
Cpt. Kenneth T. Ham (Born 1964)
Hailing from Plainfield, Ham graduated from the Naval Academy in 1987 with a degree in aerospace engineering. He later earned an M.S. in the same subject from the Naval Postgraduate program. After being commissioned an officer Ham was assigned to the NASA-JSC Zero-g flight research program at Ellington Field in Houston. In 1989 he became a Naval Aviator and reported to Florida’s NAS Cecil Field where he trained on F/A-18’s prior to joining the Privateers of VFA-132, and later the Gunslingers of VFA-105. He completed two carrier deployments involving combat missions over Northern Iraq and Bosnia. During this time Ham served as Air Wing Strike Leader. Following this posting he became a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and test flew the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet.
In 1998 he was selected to be a NASA astronaut. Ham’s first spaceflight was aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-124 mission in 2008. He served as pilot and spent nearly two weeks in orbit, including a docking with the International Space Station (ISS). In 2010 Ham was Mission Commander of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-132 mission, also to the ISS. By the close of this mission Ham had logged a combined total of 24 days in space. After leaving NASA he became Chair of Aerospace Engineering at Annapolis, only recently departing to join a commercial spaceflight company.
Ham is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association, and the Association of Space Explorers. He has logged over 6,000 hours piloting more than 40 aircraft types and has made more than 300 carrier landings.
Lt. Col. Jay Zeamer, Jr. (1918-2007)
A childhood resident of Orange, Zeamer was an Eagle Scout by age 13. In 1940 he graduated from M.I.T. with a degree in civil engineering. Already an Army reservist with an interest in aviation, Zeamer joined the active force in 1940 and graduated from flight school in 1941. Stationed in New Guinea at the time of Pearl Harbor Zeamer became a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot. By May 1943 he had already won two Silver Stars on combat flights.
On June 16th, 1943 Zeamer was in command of a B-17 photo-reconnaissance mission over Japanese-held Bougainville. On the return flight his aircraft was intercepted by an estimated 17 enemy fighters. In a 45-minute running battle he and his crew shot down at least five aircraft despite eight airmen, including Zeamer, being wounded. The B-17 was heavily damaged, losing both oxygen and hydraulic systems. Despite being severely injured, and drifting in and out of consciousness, he directed his crew to a safe landing at a base 580 miles away. For this action Zeamer was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor along with his bombardier, the one casualty of the mission.
After the war Zeamer earned a Masters degree in aeronautical engineering from M.I.T. and worked as an engineer for Pratt & Whitney, Hughes Aircraft, and Raytheon before retiring in 1968. When he passed away in 2007 he was the last living USAAF Medal of Honor recipient.
In addition to the Medal and the Silver Stars Zeamer was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.