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MEEKER I He served his country overseas and spent most of his professional career on the West Coast, but Meeker was always home.
Eighty-five-year-old Vern Amick was born here, left when he was 15, and didn’t return, at least permanently, until almost 70 years later.
“It was still a small town, but there were a lot of changes,” Amick said of the Meeker he found when he returned in 2007. “The biggest change was the people. Many of the people that I knew when I was here weren’t alive anymore.”
Amick is part of what is called the Greatest Generation — those U.S. military veterans who served during World War II. Many of them aren’t alive anymore. WWII veterans are dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day.
Thursday, when the country honors its military veterans, Amick is proud to be counted among those who served in the Second World War.
“I was very proud of the fact I had the opportunity to serve my country,” Amick said. “I wasn’t any braver than anyone else. It was something we had to do, and we did it.”
Others, like J.D. Watson, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Meeker, see Amick and his fellow WWII veterans as heroes.
“I have had the distinct honor throughout my life of meeting several WWII veterans,” Watson said. “This has been a blessing for two reasons: One because I’m such a WWII buff and have studied it extensively, but more importantly because of the honor of meeting men who were there defending our liberty against incomprehensible evil. Among those I’ve met, there is Vern Amick. I have had the privilege of sitting in his home listening to his recounting of those days and just rejoicing in each opportunity.
“Someone has called the WWII generation The Greatest Generation, and I could not agree more. Mr. Amick, and countless forgotten others like him, are a unique breed who unselfishly serve their country. I am honored to call him a friend and humbled by his dedication.”
Kevin Amack, who is Amick’s neighbor and stops by to have coffee with him on weekday mornings, is grateful for the sacrifice of Amick and other veterans.
“I believe that our society is drifting more and more all the time toward a prevailing attitude of ‘What’s in it for me?’” Amack said. “Vern, and many people from Vern’s generation, seemed to have lived a refreshingly different life philosophy of ‘How can I contribute and do my share?’”
Amick joined the U.S. Navy in 1943. He was 17, right before he would have had to register for the draft. He was an aviation mechanic and aerial gunner on a 12-man crew assigned to a modified B-24 patrol bomber in the Pacific.
Though the crew came under enemy fire during some of its patrols, it suffered no casualties.
“One run we made, I remember we got hit and had 30 some holes going into the airplane, but we didn’t have a man in our crew that got a scratch on him,” Amick said. “I came about as close as anybody. A bullet came through and hit the back of my turret and fortunately I had armor plating that was on the door behind me. It hit that plate and ricocheted off and went out the other side of the airplane.”
The name of the crew’s plane was the Pirate Princess.
“We had a picture of her painted on the side of our airplane,” Amick said. “She was dressed as a pirate standing over a treasure chest and she was pretty well exposed. After we got shot up and landed, we all ran around to see if the Pirate Princess got hit. The only thing that got hit was the treasure chest. As long as she didn’t get hit, it didn’t really matter.”
Amick was on leave visiting his girlfriend, who later became his wife, in Bakersfield, Calif., when the war ended.
“The day I got there was the day they declared the war was over, V-J Day,” Amick said. “So, I knew I wasn’t going to have to go back overseas. But I had six more months to serve. My enlistment was for the duration of the war, plus six (months).”
Today, Amick doesn’t hold any animosity toward the United States’ enemies in World War II.
“I really couldn’t hold anything against them,” he said. “They were doing the same things I was, they were following orders. Fortunately, I didn’t get involved in the real ugly part (of the war).”
After he was discharged from the service, Amick attended Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“I was always very proud of the fact I was a veteran and lived through it all,” Amick said. “It was because I was a veteran that I got to go to college on the GI Bill. Of all the things that Congress did, that was the best.”
College degree in hand, Amick went to work for Douglas Aircraft, which later became McDonnell Douglas, a major aerospace manufacturer and defense contract. He made it his life’s work.
“I was there 41 and a half years,” Amick said.
Before going to work for Douglas, Amick talked to Freeman Fairfield — the successful oilman who established a trust fund to benefit charitable causes in Meeker — about a job.
“I knew him from here,” Amick said. “He was a nice guy. He was very cordial to me. I enjoyed visiting with him. At the time he was doing real well financially. He was going to get me an interview with one of the oil companies, but I couldn’t get an interview because things were kind of tight. So I went across the street to Douglas Aircraft, put in my application and they hired me.”
Even though his work kept him out West in California and Arizona, Amick used to return to Meeker regularly for hunting trips.
“We talk almost every day. He is my uncle — my father’s only brother,” said Diana Watson. “When we were little, my brother and I both would look forward to Uncle Vern’s visits to our house in the fall of the year. We always enjoyed hearing his stories about the time he spent in the service. My brother was infatuated with the airplanes that he flew and the carrier ships. He put together models of some of them and was always excited for Uncle Vern to see what he had done. I enjoyed listening to my dad and my uncle tell stories of their younger years and most especially liked to listen to them laugh — which they did a lot when they were together.”
Amick retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1992 to take care of his wife, Sarah Jane, whose health was failing. She died in 2002.
“We brought her back here to bury her and on the way back my daughter said we ought to build a house in Meeker,” Amick said. “I got on my drafting board and starting designing this house and we started looking for places where we could build.”
Amick bought three lots in the Sage Hills subdivision. He moved back to Meeker in 2007.
“It was good to get back to Meeker after all these years,” Amick said.
Looking back on his life, Amick has seen the world, served his country, had a long and successful professional career, and now he has come full circle, returning to the place where he was born.
“I’ve had a pretty adventurous life,” he said.