During the Vietnam War, the mettle of many a young citizen—often barely out of high school—was tested in what remains one of the controversial conflicts in our nation’s history. Local veteran Steven P. Amick remains cognizant of the sacrifices he and his fellow veterans made during the war, and remains proud of the tumultuous journey that delivered him to adulthood.
Born in 1947, Amick was raised in the Dixon area until his parents moved to Jefferson City during his sophomore year of high school. Graduating from Jefferson City High School in 1965, he enrolled in classes at Lincoln University.
“I attended class for about six weeks,” recalled Amick, “and decided it wasn’t for me.”
When walking out of one of his classes, Amick’s friend Ron Saucier asked him what he planned on doing.
“I’m going to join the Marines!” Amick exclaimed.
“Not without me!” was his friend’s immediate reply.
Amick and Saucier enlisted in the Marines in October 1965. When asked why he chose to join the the Marines during a very chaotic period in American history, Amick humorously noted, “I wanted a change and a little action…and I ended up finding more than I wanted of both.”
After graduating from boot camp in December 1965, Amick was promoted to private first class for serving as a squad leader and being one of the top Marines in the training command. He then returned home for 20 days of leave during which time his friend Saucier was married. In January 1966, he traveled to Camp Pendleton, California, where he completed radio relay school. When his 2-1/2 months of specialized training was finished, he was transferred to Camp Lejune, North Carolina, and participated in various field training maneuvers. Shortly after his arrival at the new duty location, Amick received the chance to embrace the action he believed he would find by joining the Corps.
“One day an officer came around and asked if anyone would like to volunteer to go to Vietnam,” Amick explained. “Me and another Marine raised our hands…and that’s when I learned that you don’t volunteer for anything in the military,” he joked.
In June 1966, Amick departed the states and arrived in Okinawa, where he spent a few days receiving shots and orientation classes on Vietnam, the people and their culture. He then boarded a flight into Da Nang that provided the veteran with his first taste of the excitement associated with war.
“We landed at night; all of the lights were off on the plane,” he recalled. “We were taking sniper fire because you could see all of the tracer rounds zipping by the windows. The stewardesses were scared to death…and to be honest with you, so was I,” he modestly added.
Following an overnight stay, Amick boarded a plane to Chu Lai. Upon arrival, he was assigned to Headquarters Co., 5th Marines located on Hill 35—just 15 miles north of Chu Lai. Amick quickly learned that service in a combat zone was full of surprises and replete with action.
“As soon as I got there, the gunnery sergeant told me they had just been hit the night before,” he noted. “Apparently the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) was doing some probing.”
When it was discovered that the young Marine possessed an electrical background, his sergeant assigned him to the generator section. Not satisfied with such an assignment, Amick was granted a transfer five months later to work in the radio relay section.
“We would set up on hills with the grunts to establish radio relay stations,” recalled Amick. “The stations made great targets; we’d set them up during the day and get the hell shelled out of us in the evening,” he said. “That’s when I began to ask myself what in the world I was doing there.”
On another occasion, his unit was set up in a compound with other military branches as part of Operation Colorado—a search and destroy mission.
“Mortars began coming in and striking the Army side of the compound,” he noted. “Bullets were ‘wizzing’ by us and you could hear them pop when they went by your ears. Thank God they couldn’t hit anything,” he jested.
While serving during the war, Amick fell victim to an affliction that wasn’t the result of enemy fire.
“I caught malaria and spent 38 days in the hospital,” he recalled. “I was terribly sick and and ended up losing 50 pounds.”
With a 13-month overseas deployment under his belt, Amick returned to the states in July 1967. His combat service earned him the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and a Presidential Unit Citation. Prior to his return to Jefferson City for a brief period of leave, the combat veteran was advised by military personnel of the current situation in the states—primarily the protests that were going on with regard to the war.
“We were called ‘baby killers’ and spit upon in the airport,” he stated.
After the war, he spent a few more months in the service and was discharged in September 1967. Since that time, Amick has worked as an electrician and has even operated his own electrical business. He went on to retire from state government and now enjoys spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren. A member of the American Legion, he twice served as the commandant for the Samuel F. Gearhart Chapter of the Marine Corps League.
Having battled many of the demons that afflicted so many returning veterans of the Vietnam War, Amick remains proud of his service and the time he spent in his beloved "Corps."
“When I first got back from the war I didn’t tell anyone I was a vet; I didn’t want to have to explain myself,” he said. “From the time I got to Vietnam until this day, I know I did the right thing … at the time I was just too young to understand it.”
Jeremy Amick is the nephew of Steven Amick and writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
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Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.