ELIDA — Elida resident Mark Frick didn’t serve in one branch of the military, but two.
Upon graduating from Lima Senior High School in 1958, he enlisted in the Army along with four other classmates: Jerry Reinock, Fred Briggs, Pat Fairhurst and Greg Sharp.
“I don’t really know exactly how it was decided. I suppose each one of us had a different reason, but five of us that knew each other when we graduated from high school, we enlisted for Armored Europe. In other words, enlisted for armor, which is tanks. … They let the five of us go overseas to Germany.”
The five stayed together through basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia, and through most of advanced tank training in Fort Knox, Ky. Frick was stationed in Bad Kissingen, Germany, a place that was known for its mineral water and is still known for its health resorts. He was serving in the 14th Armored Cavalry Regimen, and then he was transferred to border duty.
For about two years, Frick primarily patrolled no man’s land between East and West Germany.
“We were on the West German side, and then of course, there was the East Germans and the Russians on the other side,” he said. “They had a big fence along the border, and then there was no man’s land about three miles on each side of this fence. We patrolled one side and the East Germans patrolled the other side.”
The Berlin Wall also separated the two countries, physically and otherwise. Although he didn’t serve alongside his old classmates, he was sure to catch up with them while he was in Germany.
“I did see the other guys who were stationed at different places at different times we would get together. Three out of the five of us married German girls and came back to the states,” he said, himself included. Frick later remarried.
Five years after returning to the United States, after working various jobs, he decided to enlist in the Navy at age 24. He studied aviation electronics.
Frick then traveled the world, going through places like Cuba and Brazil while aboard the USS Forrestal. They were going to stop in South Africa as well, but apartheid was so bad at the time it prevented them.
The USS Forrestal was later supposed to be engaged in combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin near Vietnam. But shortly after arriving, a historic fire broke out on July 29, 1967, that killed 134 sailors and injured 161 people. It was the worst U.S. carrier fire since World War II. It was particularly dangerous because of the jet fuel in all of the planes and the missiles that were held on the carrier. At any given moment, the fire could set off a chain-reaction of explosions.
“I thought half the ship was exploding,” Frick said. “I didn’t know whether I was going to live or die while I was on this aircraft carrier. I can’t explain this to you, but of all the servicemen and all the wars, and all the places, you don’t want to die away from home. There’s something about dying in the foreign land or at sea. … It’s like something that is lonely. You want to die with your loved ones.”
Paging through a memorabilia book, he showed vivid pictures of the fire, and the dark plumes of smoke that hung over the carrier. The carrier was large enough, roughly three football fields long, that his side of the carrier wasn’t affected by the fire all that much. Still, he remembers being on the flight deck, pushing missiles and planes into the water.
“They were throwing bombs over the side because they didn’t want these bombs to explode,” Frick said.
He also wore a life jacket just in case the fires were bad enough that he’d want to jump off the side. He didn’t jump. The damage to the carrier alone was about $72 million, equivalent to more than $500 million today.
Another memory that stayed with Frick during that time was men who died. Their bodies piled up on the carrier over a few days. They were kept in bags near where everyone ate until they could be transferred. Frick said he will never forget the smell.
U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate John McCain was also aboard the USS Forrestal during the fire.
Frick served in the Navy for about four years. After returning, he worked for the Ford Plant for 35 years. He is retired.
Frick said he’s stayed in touch with the men who served in the Army over the years, through events like class reunions. Some of them have now died. However, he’s looking forward to the next reunion.
“This summer will be my 55th high school class reunion,” he said.
While serving in the military changed his life, he said events that have occurred while living at home have shaped him, too.
“My life is stranger than fiction,” he said. “There’s a lot more that’s happened to me in civilian life than happened to me in the service.”