Above: U.S. Navy veteran and Winfield resident Bob Pameticky holds up a handmade quilt stitched and gifted to him by the local Quilts of Valor organization. The charity group creates new quilts for area veterans throughout the year, usually awarding them during a ceremony. Photo/William Smith
By William Smith
U.S. Navy veteran Bob Pameticky never saw combat.
Because of that, he didn’t consider himself a military veteran. It was only years after his service, which lasted from 1989 to 1993, that Pameticky realized he could receive medical care and benefits that were due to him.
“I didn’t even know I was a veteran,” he said. “Men and women before me and the ones come after me, those are the real veterans. They saw combat.”
Pameticky’s service was as vital to the nation’s security as any sailor, and he saw quite a bit of excitement in his four years. He traveled the world. He engaged in rescue efforts. He even helped arrest a ship full of Columbian drug dealers.
Pameticky would have engaged in Operation Desert Storm too, but the war was over by the time the destroyer he served on arrived.
“When we found out that Desert Storm was over, we had a big party in the middle of the gulf,” he said.
This wasn’t just as any party. The USS Merrill — the destroyer that Pameticky served on — anchored beside a Japanese ship for a steel beach picnic. The Americans cooked up hotdogs and hamburgers. The Japanese ship was full of seafood and rice.
The two crews swapped ships during the party, sampling each other’s cuisine while taking tours. They actually held two parties with the Japanese — a first in military history.
“I drank fresh sake in the Persian Gulf,” Pameticky said with a grin.
Growing up all at once
A native and current resident of Winfield, Pameticky joined the Navy right out of high school. He didn’t take school seriously enough, he said, which left him few options for college. And he wanted to serve.
“I’m not a violent person. Joining the Army or Marines was out of the question. I wanted to travel the world. That’s how I chose the Navy,” he said.
Pameticky went through boot camp in Illinois, then was sent to San Diego, Calif., to serve on the USS Merrill (DD-976) destroyer.
“When I got on the ship, it was a culture shock,” he said. “I come from small town Iowa, and I get put into San Diego.”
Pameticky and his fellow sailors stayed in temporary barracks for two months waiting for the ship to arrive. When it did, the men found themselves in jobs they didn’t anticipate — ship cleaners.
“We cleaned for eight hours straight. It was like a 9-to-5 job,” Pameticky said.
Once the cleaning was over, Pameticky became a fireman recruit and worked in the engine room. He was always interested in welding, and that played a big part in his job. He enjoyed the firefighting aspect and damage control of the job so much he wanted to become a firefighter as a civilian, but prior health concerns didn’t allow it.
Those long hours aboard ship, which was often docked far enough away from San Diego that only the city lights were visible, were filled with more than work. There was plenty of training to be done.
“When it wasn’t wartime, we were always acting like it was wartime,” he said. “We’d be sitting anchored and doing battle simulations.”
The sailors took pride in their work. At the tender age of 22, Pameticky was responsible for all the ship’s plumbing. After his service, he got a chance to visit the ship with his parents while living in Oregon. He wanted to see if his welds and plumbing work were still holding up.
One of the men aboard told them there had been zero leaks or problems.
“I was pretty proud of that,” Pameticky said.
A drug bust
In 1991, the volcano Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted for the first time in 600 years, producing a column of ash, smoke, and rock debris more than 28 miles high. The resulting heavy ashfall left about 100,000 people homeless, forced thousands more to flee the area, and caused 300 deaths.
The USS Merrill was part of the relief effort, providing an escape for American citizens.
“The eruption was over by the time we got there,” Pameticky said. “There was just ash flying around everywhere. We took American citizens from the Philippines to Cebu (Island), and they would fly back to America. We made three trips. That is when the Gulf War broke out.”
That experience will forever be burned into Pameticky’s memory. So will the unexpected drug bust he and the men of the USS Merrill conducted.
“We actually did it twice. We didn’t get anything (drugs) the first time,” he said.
A new captain resulted in a more successful second effort. While approaching the drug ship, the USS Merrill was ordered to wait for the Coast Guard to arrive. But as they waited, the crew of the drug ship starting tossing cargo overboard.
It was time for a judgment call.
“Our captain said, ‘Screw it,’ and we hightailed it over there, got on board and arrested everyone who needed to be arrested,” Pameticky said.
When the Coast Guard arrived, the men of the USS Merrill had two presents for them. A ship full of handcuffed drug runners out of Panama, and 60 pounds of cocaine.
“They (military brass) gave us a big snowflake sticker to put on the side of the ship,” Pameticky said.
Saving a llfe
One night while serving on the USS Merrill, Pameticky stepped out onto the deck. It was dark, but he heard someone screaming.
After making his way to the source of the sound, he found one of his fellow soldiers dangling from the handrail around the deck. If the man fell, his body would be sucked into the propeller.
“He would have gotten chopped up. There would have been nothing left,” Pameticky said.
Seeing that he was about to fall, Pameticky laid down on the deck and braced his shoulder against the rail post. He grabbed the man’s belt to pull him up, and the man grabbed Pameticky’s belt when he was raised high enough.
Then they were stuck. There was no way to get the man back up on deck without letting go of him, and the rail prevented Pameticky from standing. They had to wait for the fore or aft watchman to take notice. It didn’t take long for help to arrive, but time had seemingly slowed.
“It felt like it took forever to get someone’s attention,” he said.
After the close call, they nominated Pameticky for a medal for saving his life. But the captain of USS Merrill denied it.
Pameticky believes the captain didn’t want to bring attention to a safety issue. He said the man who fell was leaning on the rail turnbuckle when it collapsed.
Pameticky was crestfallen, and not because of the lack of recognition. The award would have helped promote Pameticky to the second-class petty officer — a rank he had worked toward tirelessly since enlisting. He was considering making the Navy a career.
“ I came from the bottom and worked for everything I accomplished. He (the captain) couldn’t see where I came from. He was more worried about an investigation,” Pameticky said.
It soured Pameticky on the service.
“I got mad, and I got out (of the service). There are days I regret it, and days I don’t,” he said.
What he doesn’t regret is enlisting. In the course of four years, Pameticky saved a man’s life, participated in a Columbian drug bust, and rescued Americans from an erupting volcano – all while traveling the world.
“I’m glad I did it,” he said. “You grow up fast.”