Married (42 Years)
MESSAGES AND TRIBUTES:
(Eulogy for Mr. Yamnicky's Memorial Mass)
(Written and Given by Dennis Plautz, friend and Veridian co-worker)
Let's imagine that you never met John Yamnicky, but found yourself at the recent gathering of the Tailhook Association. You might have heard someone say, "Hey, did you see that guy with the eye patch?" "YES, . . . Did you notice that there was a dragon painted in gold on that eye patch?" That was John, a man with Style.
John was born on June 8, 1930. He was a native of Barren Run, Pennsylvania. John's father passed away when John was 16 years old. He and his older sister Mary supported their mother until her death in 1959.
Did you know John was a phenomenal athlete? In his senior year in high school in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, John was on the State Championship Football Team. After winning the state championship, his team played in the Scholastic Orange Bowl on Christmas Day 1947, in front of 25,000 fans. He also played basketball and was on the school track team's championship 880-relay squad.
John was a scholar as well as a superb athlete. He was accepted at Princeton University on both an athletic and academic scholarship. I read a letter from a Judge Weiss, Court of Common Pleas, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on University of Miami (Florida) stationary that said that "We can match any scholarship offered by Tulane, Kentucky, Duke or (Penn) State. Then came the letter from Congressman Frank Buchanan stating that John had been accepted at the Naval Academy. Thus started a stretch of service to his country that would last 53 years. In the many newspaper clippings speaking to his athletic prowess was a short article from June 1950 stating that Midshipman John Yamnicky was home on leave and he was maintaining a 3.3 GPA. Of course, John was a football letterman at Navy. Truly a scholar-athlete.
John graduated from the Naval Academy in June 1952, just in time to ship out to Korea where he served as, among other duties, an amphibious assault wave leader supporting the landings at Inchon. After obligatory service for one year as a "Black shoe", John was off to flight school. After receiving his wings on 26 January 1955, he reported to Utility Squadron 10, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where he flew both jet and prop aircraft. That was 6 years before the Bay of Pigs. I recall him saying that drinks in the bar on the top floor of the Bacardi factory were 10 cents. He added with emphasis that he didn't know that for a fact, it was just a rumor! The hair-raising flying stories he told of that period were told with such off-handed casualness I won't even try to repeat them.
John reported to NAS Cecil field as a carefree bachelor and joined VA-46. He and some friends established themselves in Orange Park in something he called a "SNAKE RANCH". I wonder what that could be. During this period the age-old story of the big powerful macho man tamed by a petite 105-pounder was retold. It was during this period that John met Jann Wilson. After a whirlwind romance, they were married on 23 December 1959. Jann told me that John had promised to love honor and obey, and he did. Over the next two years they were blessed by the births of John David and Lorraine.
On his next assignment he entered the U.S. Navy's Test Pilot School at Patuxent River Maryland and graduated in 1961. The stories of those days were also filled with understated casualness. One of John's projects was to investigate the minimum acceptable airspeed for the A-4 aircraft after a catapult launch from an aircraft carrier. He worked with ground-based engineers to see what those minimum speeds should be, but confirmed the final calculations himself. The stories of shipboard catapult launches at slower and slower end speed until the point of sinking below the carrier deck after launch were frightful. For this, and other work he performed while at TPS, John was inducted into the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. What a way to earn a living!
Oh, yes. John was a finalist for selection to the astronaut program but was eliminated because he was too big!
In 1963, after TPS, John reported to VA-146 at NAS Lemoore, California. In 1964, John and Jann were blessed by the birth of their third child, Mark. That same year John was the operations officer for VA-146 embarked in USS Constellation and participated in the first days of U.S. retaliatory air strikes on North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Ted Lloyd, a squadron mate of John's in VA-146 and life long friend of John and his family, said of John, "A good person to know and to be around."
John and Jann's daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1967.
Looking through a box of memorabilia, I found two diplomas from 1967. The first was from the Naval War College dated 14 June. The second was from George Washington University dated 30 September. That reminded me of the story of "The 'Thing' in the basement". Seems that John was a bit busy during that War College year. For many the course of study at the war college was enough. For others, John included, it was an opportunity to get a masters degree at the same time. The family didn't see too much of Dad as he was always studying. He wrote two dissertations, one for each course of instruction. He would write the pages out longhand and, periodically, bring them up to Jan to be typed. To the Kids, he was the "thing" in the basement.
Next, John and family moved back to the Jacksonville area and joined VA-172. A quote from the command welcome aboard packet during his tenure as commanding officer is a good reflection on his feelings about people and service. All these many problems (command preparation to fight) involve men -- human beings. And, of course, they have problems of their own. So, you can see that we must have teamwork and cooperation to keep this squadron ready for any contingency. The individual is the real strength of our squadron . . . our Navy. . . our America. John could always see the big picture. From the early days of demonstrated athletic prowess to his last day, John emphasized teamwork. His style was never to leave a teammate straggling, rather work with them, help them, encourage them to maximize their potential.
After his CO tour, John was selected to command a carrier air wing. He made a very unusual decision. John declined the assignment because he had too little time with his family over the preceding years and wanted to spend more time nurturing the development of his children. Their daughter, Jennifer, commented, "All the times we worked together on my math homework, I said I didn't understand. Your only comment was, 'Yes you do, just take another look', and there it was staring back at me."
The family moved to Patuxent River for the second time and reported to the staff of the Commander, Naval Air Technical Center. After a few months, the director of the Test Pilot was killed in a glider accident. John was assigned to take over as Director and assumed the duties in May 1972. He felt his greatest achievement was his part in restructuring the curriculum. The school used to run three classes a year, with each class being eight months with no breaks. The admiral was of the philosophy that is it had been good enough for John and him, it was good enough for everyone else.
John took the position that although the school was important, this was shore duty, and the students needed to have time to spend with their families, too. He eventually prevailed. The culmination of an effort started in 1958 resulted in a change to two classes a year, each class running for twelve months.
Never one for fanfare, John retired in 1978 from the Navy as a Captain after 26 years of service on a Friday and went to work the following Monday for what is now Veridian. John could have gone many places, but chose to continue to serve his country and the Navy.
Daughter Lorraine attended high school at St. Mary's Academy, an all-girls school where John was on the board of directors. Lorraine said, "Can you imagine what it was like to have your dad on the board of directors? I couldn't get away with anything!" Lorraine didn't like to get up for school, so each morning at breakfast John would sing to her. No, really, sing -- Good Morning Mary Sunshine. While Sister Mary Elizabeth ran the educational and spiritual aspects of the school, the board took care of the more practical matters of property, infrastructure, etc. In 1981, St. Mary's Academy merged with Ryken boys' school. John was instrumental in this effort.
John joined the Knights of Columbus in September 1981 and was appointed to the position of Grand Knight in July 1987. He was a member of the Thomas Manor Assembly, 4th Degree, the highest Degree of the Order. The Supreme Council bestowed on him the highest award a council could receive, that of STAR COUNCIL in recognition of his leadership and guidance. He chaired numerous campaigns for the mentally handicapped through the K of C Tootsie Roll Drives, raising more funds than any chairman past or present.
Harry Errington spoke to me about John's participation in the school board and his work with children. John was a life member of the Elk's Lodge in California, MD. John was instrumental in the installation of a pool at the Lodge. Once completed, they were able to provide swimming lessons and organized swimming meets for the children of southern Maryland.
I first met John in 1991 while I was on active duty in the Navy. John was on the developmental integration team and I was on the Operational Test and Evaluation team. In those days, relations between the two sides of the acquisition fence were not always pleasant. Not so with John. We worked closely over the next three years on this effort.
In 1994, when I was about to retire from the Navy, I was offered an opportunity to submit a resume to work for John. I completed the obligatory ethics review. I answered some of the questions incorrectly because I made incorrect assumptions about the relationship with the government customer. The company legal counsel decided I should not be hired. John would not let it rest. He called me and directed me to get another ethics review and explain why the first review was faulty. I was able to get a new review, submit it to the company, and report to work in October 1994.
Had he not persevered and pushed me, not only would I never have known his family, I would have never met my wife.
John was proud of his service to the De La Brooke Foxhounds W Hunt Club. He and Jann were members for 25 years. Jann and Jennifer would ride and John would work on the support staff. John told me with great pride that he had received his colors for all the work he had performed for the hunt club, a very rare honor for a non-rider. Jann stated she didn't actually know too many of the members. While John, the permanent bartender, knew everyone. No surprise there.
John and Jann were world travelers. More than one time when they arrived back home they found a room was painted or some other project that had been completed by the children. They do so much for their children. The love and training they provide to their children taught them that, when you receive, you must give back.
They always took the time on their trips to remember others. There was normally a gift for "his girls" in the office when he returned. Jann and he were that kind of people.
John's son, Mark, implied Dad ran a tight, but fair ship at home. His friends would stop by on Saturday and ask when Mark could go off with them. He said, "When my chores are complete." Mark said that Dad always had them up for early Mass on Sunday, seven o'clock when it was available, so they could get back and get their chores complete. John used to tell me that Mark would dig things out of the trash that could be taken apart to see how they worked. John was very proud of Mark's mechanical abilities. He said, "Mark can fix anything."
When Jennifer needed a fence built for her new home, John had everything ordered and organized. They made a family work party out of it. Jennifer said of her dad, " All those fences, together we made a hell of a team."
Son John David said, "This guy was the head of the family, he made everyone feel safe. If he ever talked about accomplishing something, it was as a group or a team. He didn't hang symbols of his accomplishments on the wall like so many do. He was a modest man." He added, "Dad, you are our hero, we're just sad we didn't have a chance to say good-bye." Jennifer added, speaking of her dad, "Your confidence was unshakable, your presence unmatched, your love so generous in your own special way."
In 1973, when the POWs were released by the North Vietnamese, John was selected to be part of a medical control group to study the long-term medical effects of their incarceration. As a control member, he would go to Pensacola once a year for three days of physical and mental examinations. Last week would be about the time that John would be in Pensacola, but a business trip came up and he rescheduled. He was dedicated to the service he provided to our Navy and looked forward to the sidelight opportunity to visit Mark and his family. HE WOULD HAVE IT NO OTHER WAY!
Over a period of years, after hearing of his accomplishments and service to others, I asked him why he took on so much outside his family. He told me the following, in approximately these words, "There was only one man who lived a perfect life. I have had some shortcomings over the years. I want to try and make sure I get enough positives on my list to overwhelm the negatives."
On Friday, an individual who had recently met John in a professional context stopped me. After reading the article in the Enterprise Newspaper, he expressed amazement at John's accomplishments. His comment to me was that John was a man with so many accolades, but you would never hear it from him. He made you feel after a few hours that he had known you most of his life. He was a "tackle the task at hand" kind of guy.
Physically, John was a big strong guy, even at 71 his arms were rock hard. Jennifer said to me, ". . . he was a wonderful man and I never got to get to the point where I could do more push ups than he did. He would use one hand and I two, someday I'm gonna get there."
John wasn't one much for formality, he might wonder why all the fuss over him amidst the overall tragedy of September 11th. He didn't want this service. He didn't want to bring any additional sorrow to his family and knew the service would only rekindle their pain. But this service is for the living to honor and celebrate his life.
John could have been, many would say should have been, on his back porch drinking a beer on September 11th. He was 71 in June. He never thought much about retirement. Those of us who are old enough remember where we were on the day that President Kennedy was shot. So, too, will we remember where we were on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 and the magnitude of the tragedy. Amidst the sadness, I will always remember "Yam". Taken from us all, well before his time. But, I also know this: He loved his friends, his church and most especially his wife Jann and their family. He was a man who believed in giving much, while expecting little in return.
A Veridian associate, Dave VanAsdlen, felt John might have said, "Remember me not for what I have done, but for what I may have given you. Not for how I did it, but for the happiness and joy it may have brought you."
He will be missed by all, but be assured, when he is judged, he will not be found wanting.
May John's spirit live in our hearts forever.