Prairie City veteran hesitated to attend Freedom Flight

Melvin Wicker, a Korean War era veteran from Prairie City, was concerned his service might not qualify him for the Jasper County Freedom Flights.

“I called Doug Bishop, the guy putting it together, and I told him that I didn’t do a damn thing,” Wicker said. “Well, he said, ‘You went, didn’t you? You did what they told you to do, didn’t you?’”

With the support of Bishop and a number of people from the community, Melvin decided to sign up for the Oct. 25, 2011, Freedom Flight.

Melvin had graduated from Prairie City High School in 1951, right around the time the United Nations began its counter-offensive in Korea.

He went to work for Maytag for awhile, securing a position in its Newton location, where he worked for just over a year and a half. Then, on Dec. 7, 1952, he was drafted into the armed forces.

Melvin reported for duty, receiving his assignment from the United States Army to report to basic training at Camp Roberts in California.

He spent a grueling 16 weeks in California, substantially longer than the basic training programs in place today. During this time, Melvin had no idea where he would end up deployed to, and he had just as much chance to be sent off to the 38th parallel as anywhere else.

“It was tough … It made a man out of you,” Melvin said.

He was able to return home for a short leave before he received his official order to report to Anchorage, Alaska, where he would work in an office with the Headquarters Company.

After a few months in Anchorage, the United States, along with the other nations involved in the war, signed the Armistice Agreement, which effectively ended the Korean War.

Melvin rotated back from his tour of duty in November of 1954 and received an honorable discharge. He signed up for the American Legion soon after and has been a member of the organization since.

He returned to work at Maytag for several years before investing in a Phillips gas station in Prairie City.

Melvin met his wife, Marilyn Barr, through his sister and the two of them were married on Dec. 7, 1958. They had a boy, Todd, a little over a year later.

After helping to run the station for several more years, it was bought out by the co-op. The co-op hired on Melvin, and he worked there for more than 30 years until his retirement.

When Melvin heard about the Freedom Flight from a friend, he was interested but uncertain whether or not he was qualified for the flight or if others were more deserving of his spot.

Ultimately, after talking to Bishop, among others, Melvin chose to go on the flight because his service was no less valuable despite not having been in Korea.

He, along with several other veterans from Prairie City, attended the October 2011 flight. He had the opportunity to visit all of the war memorials, although he didn’t get to visit the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery, which he’d looked forward to.

“I liked it … I’d never given it a thought that I might go on a Freedom Flight before someone had told me about it,” Melvin said.