JOHN D. YAMNICKY, SR., CAPT, USN (RET.)
John Yamnicky, Sr. '52
Date of birth: June 8, 1930
Date of death: September 11, 2001
From the 1952 Lucky Bag:
Inclusion in Virtual Memorial Hall
John was not on active military duty the morning of September 11, 2001, and is therefore not included in Memorial Hall. For the purposes of this website, however, we feel that this is a distinction that is simply not worth making: The attack was against all Americans, regardless of employment status, and we will honor and remember them here with all other alumni who gave the "last full measure of devotion" to their country.
Captain John D. Yamnicky, USN (Ret) was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 ending his life.
Yamnicky was described by friends as a “magnificent man devoted to his faith, his family and his country.”
Born in Barren Run, Pennsylvania in 1930, John attended McKeesport Pennsylvania High School, a football powerhouse where John was a standout on a team which won the state championship and then played in the Scholastic Orange Bowl on Christmas Day 1947. He also played basketball and set records as a member of the championship 880-yard relay team. John was a scholar athlete with an outstanding academic record sought after by numerous schools. He was a key member of the Naval Academy team that defeated Army 14-2 in the 1950 Classic.
John was a jewel in the Navy and Naval Academy crown, a warrior who fought in Korea and flew three combat tours in Vietnam. After the Gulf of Tonkin incident, John flew some of the first strikes in North Vietnam. Then, following a year at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, during which he also earned a Masters degree in International Affairs, John returned to Squadron 172 as executive officer, later as commanding officer.
Shortly after graduation, John was an assault wave commander carrying Marines ashore in Korea and then began a career in naval aviation, which resulted in more than 900 aircraft carrier landings. Only those who have landed a high performance jet aircraft aboard a pitching, rolling aircraft carrier deck, operating in thunderstorm seas at night, can truly appreciate that achievement. Fellow aviators described him as an “exceptional fighter pilot who you wanted on your team when the chips were down.”
John was a test pilot’s test pilot. A graduate of the Naval Test Pilot School at Patunxent River, John was later director of the school. In recognition of his splendid work there, he was elected to be a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Retiring in 1979, John became a consultant to the Test Center at Patuxent River. On 11 September 2001, John was enroute to China Lake, California to work on a missile program.
His salient characteristics were his humility and lack of self. He turned down a major command so that he could be a father during the development stage of his four children, John David, Lorraine, Mark and Jennifer, and to help his wife, Jann, after so many years of combat and non-combat sea duty.
A devout Roman Catholic, John was a past grand knight and rose to the highest degree of the Knights of Columbus Order. He was on the board of directors of Saint Mary’s Academy and Ryken High School and was instrumental in their merger. He also was a member of the Elks Lodge 2092.
Mark Twain wrote that one should live so that when one dies, even the undertaker would be sorry. There were 1,200 people at John’s memorial service – some standing on the sidewalk.
John D. Yamnicky’s life was a gift to the Navy and the Nation. The sage who asked, “where do we get such men?” was surely thinking of John Yamnicky – one of the very best.
"It’s just difficult to put words and feelings of an entire year of pain into a few paragraphs.
My father, John D. Yamnicky, Sr. was on Flight #77 that crashed into the Pentagon.
Do you want to know how I feel, and what I think about? I relive that morning and that day over and over and over again, and I get sick with the memories. They never go away. The closer the anniversary date comes, the more frightened I become. Over the past year, I have battled with various emotions – anger, pain, and grief. I look at my young children, and cry yet again, knowing that Daddy will never see them grow up. I cry knowing how much he loved them, and how very proud he was of his grandchildren. When I cry, my children hug me and say, “you miss him, don’t you”, because they know why I cry. Then they say, “God bless Granddaddy”, and “Mommy don’t cry, because he is in heaven with God”. Then I remember when the children were so little….my son and daughters used to climb all over him – he was so big, and they were so tiny. And he was so proud.
My father and I worked in the same building, on the same floor. I go to work and cry and feel sick inside, because I know that never again will I see him smiling at me in the hallway. I feel so lost sometimes, because there are so many times that I want to run up to him, or call him and say “Guess What???” The time will never come again. I spend a lot of time wondering how there could be such evil in the world, and how could anyone, ANYONE, have been so cruel. I spend a lot of sleepless nights wondering how his last moments were, but deep down inside, knowing that my father would have been comforting someone else. I spend a lot of time wondering what he was thinking about. Then I spend a lot of time feeling selfish, because I know there are so many others who have lost spouses, children, and siblings, and those who were just beginning their lives together. I go crazy sometimes thinking that my beloved father, who spent his entire life fighting terrorism and evil, could have come to his end at the hands of people he spent his life trying to protect the rest of us against.
I wonder often about the significance of the date ‘ 911 emergency’. I wonder why, for the first time, that he didn’t tell me that he was going on travel. I remember the frantic phone calls, as if it were this morning, and the answers that I never got. You want to know what life has been like? This is it. I feel guilty when I’m happy about something. I hear songs that he loved and sang to me, and then I laugh, and then I cry. Then I wonder if God knew. The weekend before he was killed, he and my mom stopped by unexpectedly. My mom said, “Well, Daddy wanted to see the grandchildren”. I think about that so often, and count my blessings – because my brothers, me, my sister, and my mom and dad, were always a close family. I can’t even say that we’ve come closer together, because we were one of the families that were blessed with each other. I think of CMDR Bob, and LCDR Jennifer – who were the volunteers who took care of “the Yamnicky Family” at the time of the Pentagon Memorial, and who, in spite of the situation, became attached to our family. Bob and Jennifer - if you two are reading this….. please know that I am forever grateful to you, and will always think of you with a smile.
My father was a loved and respected man, and would never want us to suffer. But somehow, that doesn’t count much when you are devastated. I look at my mom, my brothers and sister, my husband, my children, my in-laws, my friends, and all of the other wonderful friends that our family has, and I know that they suffer too. A loss such as this should never have even been a thought in our minds, much less the senseless tragedy that it was. I have spent hours crying on the phone with them – then feel guilty because I am so selfish with my own pain.
I remember so many things – how he loved wine and spicy foods and garlic, and the fat on the steak, (well, the fat on the steak part – before we all had to be burdened with ‘nutritious eating’). I remember how much we loved to go over there because Daddy was grilling “Ribs”! He was the best in that field. I can’t even eat a barbequed rib now without thinking of how much he would love it. Daddy was our drinking buddy too. He sure did appreciate a good beer. All of our friends – I can’t count the nights that we all sat over there and ate and drank and talked, and loved it. They are such good memories…. and they never should have ended.
My father was a man that commanded love and respect from all avenues. He could talk to anyone, and made them feel as if they were the only person in the world. The best part about him, was that he really meant it. He exuded love and confidence, and everyone loved him for it. I can’t begin to tell you the number of people who wrote and said “if it weren’t for John”, and I knew precisely what they meant. I just had no idea how many there were. It was completely overwhelming.
Tragedies have happened over the years, and so many people have said ‘ if I only knew’. I can say without a doubt that my Dad knew completely how much we all loved him. I never got off the phone or left him without saying “I love you Daddy”. So then I always wonder if he had a chance to think of that on September 11th. It never goes away.
Thank you for this opportunity to express some of my feelings. Just how many ways can I say “Daddy, you are always in my heart, but I need you, and I miss you”? The one absolutely wonderful thing about my father – he was so proud of all of us, and it showed in everything he did and said. I feel for those who were never close, for whatever reason, to their parents, their families. I know I should be thankful for what I had, and I truly am, but it doesn’t take away the grief and pain that I feel, today and every day, when I remember, yet again."
Sincerely, Lorraine Yamnicky Dixon, 3 September 2002
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.
A Larger-Than-Life Father, a Larger-Than-Life Loss Sunday, September 10, 2006
By Robin Wallace
Five years can be a blink of an eye, or an unbearable eternity, depending on your perspective.
For Lorraine Dixon of Sandgates, Maryland, who lost her father John Yamnicky in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the past five years have been a little bit of both.
“Five years is nothing to me,” Dixon said. “For me, every year is the same. I still live it every day. It was like it was yesterday.”
Five years have come and gone, and Dixon, 42, still cannot talk long about her father before tears strangle her voice. Everyday life is a minefield of painful triggers — a news report of a plane crash, a generic e-mail reminding people never to forget the victims of the attack, a million small things that provoke a memory of her father.
“You’re just smashed back into it,” she said.
This time of year is particularly rough.
"Right around August, I start getting worked up," she said.
For Dixon's mother Jann Yamnicky, five years has not been long enough to adjust to life without the man to whom she was married for nearly 42 years. There may never be enough time.
Daughter Mourns Loss of Father "I don't know if at my age, I'll ever get over it," Jann Yamnicky, who is in her seventies, said. It's the early evenings, when her husband would come home from work and the couple would share stories of their day, that are the toughest. More than anything, she is lonesome for his company. Her children stop by, but it's not the same as having her husband, her lifetime companion.
"It's that time of day when he would come home," she said. "The evenings are still really, really hard."
Asked if having such a personal tragedy inextricably tied to such a public catastrophe has made moving on more difficult, Dixon said that rather than being a burden, the association is vitally significant to her.
“This is my personal pain, but I kind of feel like the world is forgetting,” she said.
“I don’t want to disassociate myself [from Sept. 11] at all,” she said. “I don’t want this to be swept under the carpet. I don’t want people to become blasé about it,” she said.
"It's difficult going back over 9/11, but I don't want it forgotten," Jann Yamnicky said. She does not like attending official Sept. 11 events because it "brings it all back in a bad way," she said, but thinks it's important for the country to stay focused on what happened that day.
"It changed my whole life. It changed life here in America," she said. "I am still adjusting."
John D. Yamnicky, Sr. was a big man, with a big life to match.
He was a strapping high school football player with the grades to earn a scholarship to Princeton, and the guts to turn it down to instead attend the U.S. Naval Academy.
He was a career naval officer whose service spanned the Korean and Vietnam wars and a stint as the director of the test pilot school at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in southern Maryland. He retired as a captain rather than accept a promotion to admiral so that he could spend more time with his four children.
He was a fearless military test pilot who survived five crash landings and was selected into the astronaut program, only to be passed over at the last minute because he was just too big.
He was a master grill man who presided over family barbecues cooking up his legendary ribs and swigging beers with his four grown children, a burly grandfather who wore an eye patch emblazoned with a dragon, who’d get down on the floor to let his small grandchildren climb and tumble all over him.
John Yamnicky was 71 years-old, the oldest passenger aboard American Flight 77 bound for Los Angeles, when hijackers flew the plane into the Pentagon. For the family of a test pilot, his death was not only tragic, it was cruelly ironic.
"I never did worry about him when he was flying. I had such confidence in his ability," said Jann Yamnicky. "He always said he would die in a plane crash, so when he quit, it was a relief."
Five years later, his larger than life presence lives on in the yawning void he left behind.
"There is so much I thought I could take care of that I can't take care of without John," said Jann Yamnicky, who still resides on the sprawling, 10-acre farm in Waldorf, Md., where she and John settled in 1972. "It will always be hard to get on without him," she said. Though the farm is a lot of work, and can feel isolating, she said the horses she and her daughter, Jennifer, are raising there give her a reason to get up in the morning.
"I have to get up to feed the horses, and that's a good thing, because sometimes I don't want to," she said.
After her father's death, Dixon said, the family received an outpouring of “If it weren’t for John…” letters detailing the many ways Yamnicky had touched the lives of his friends and colleagues. The correspondence has been one of her few comforts, Dixon said, confirming that others saw her father the way she did.
“He was just a super individual. He was funny,” she said. “Daddy was just one of those people that made an impact on so many people’s lives."
John Yamnicky went to work in the defense industry after his military retirement, and Dixon, a financial analyst, followed her father into the field. At the time of his death, they worked for the same Lexington, Md., defense contractor, Veridian Corp., in the same building, on the same floor. She would pass by him every day in the hall.
“In my job, I win a lot of awards,” she said. “Daddy was in the same industry. He was really the only person who could understand,” she said.
But the hardest part of the past five years, she said, has been the mental catalogue she keeps of all the conversations she cannot have with him. She couldn’t tell him that her son made the basketball team. She couldn’t tell him that her young daughter was taking a trip to Australia—a country her father and mother, avid travelers, had loved.
When her children all did very well on standardized school testing, she couldn’t tell him about it — or thank him for footing the bill for their private schools.
“I miss him most when I just want to say, 'Hey Daddy, guess what?' I miss being able to tell him about these things,” she said.
Every year, she collects and stockpiles the newspaper coverage surrounding Sept. 11. This archive clutters the home she shares with her husband Jim and her three children because she keeps the entire newspaper — she can’t make clippings because she can’t actually make herself read the stories. She does not live very far from her father’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, but she has not been able to bring herself to visit since the funeral.
“I just…can’t,” she said, her voice thick with tears. “I keep saying every year, you should go…[but] I’m afraid. To me, it’s just like yesterday,” she said.
Dixon is not the only one of her three siblings who took a career cue from her father. They all have forged careers in defense, aerospace or the military. Her brother Mark works for aircraft manufacturer Boeing, and brother John David runs a company called Pentagon Realty Services. Jennifer Yamnicky, 39, is a tech sargeant in the Air National Guard Reserves, and works out of Andrews Air Force Base. On the day of the attacks, she watched the Pentagon burn from her post, and initially refused to believe her father was on the plane. She was called up for duty in the months following the attacks, and after receiving several years of waivers, was deployed overseas for four months.
Though Dixon no longer works for Veridian, her father’s legacy in the industry is inescapable. Two years ago, her work required her to attend a meeting at the Pentagon. She was so frightened to return to the site of the crash, she had to call her sister to take her to the meeting, and she has not been back since.
More recently, she walked into a meeting at a different company, only to be confronted with a picture of her father hanging on the wall.
The Yamnicky family has attempted different ways of coping with their loss, but life has not always cooperated. On the second anniversary of the attack, the family decided against marking Sept. 11 at the Pentagon commemoration, as they had done the previous year. Instead, they gathered at a local restaurant to celebrate John Yamnicky’s life. A close family friend who attended the party was killed in a car accident on the way home from the event. For Dixon, the small window of possible healing that opened that night slammed shut.
The following year, Dixon, her husband and children started a tradition of spending Sept. 11 on a family vacation in Virginia Beach, Va. It was her husband’s idea, reminding her that she was not alone in her pain.
“He said, ‘we lost him too’,” Dixon said. “It’s a thing we now look forward to every year.”
For Jann Yamnicky, coping is less about the past than it is the future, facing alone what was supposed to be a retirement they shared.
"My social life with John was pretty much all based on him," she said. He was the out-going one, the people person.
"I just followed along behind him and I'm just not comfortable going places without him," she said.
Her social life now revolves almost exclusively around her children and grandchildren. She continues to work as a nurse part-time, for no other reason than to get out and see people.
She has long-term care insurance so that she can always remain on her farm.
"We had always planned on taking care of each other," she said.
Still, life for Sept. 11 survivors can sometimes be as surreal and unfathomable as the attacks themselves.
To help identify Yamnicky's remains, the FBI took DNA samples from the family. Dixon was shocked to learn that her mother had been provided with an urn of her father's ashes.
"How is that even possible?" she marveled.
Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Dixon admits that she has difficulty coming to terms with the loss, and said her grief has made her “selfish.” She hears about other families experiencing death and tragedy, but said she has a hard time feeling sympathy for them.
Recently, when she heard that a young soldier from her town had been killed in Iraq, she struggled to feel for the family. Her loss, she said, always seems somehow to be so much worse.
Dixon said she is tortured by the thought of her father’s final moments. As an experienced Navy pilot with extensive combat experience and training, her father would have known exactly what was happening, she said.
“I knew Daddy, and I know he knew,” she said.
From a blog post:
I have the honor of giving tribute to John D. Yamnicky Sr. John was on flight 77. What a tremendous American he was. Here is some information that I found out about him, along with some quotes from people that knew and loved him. John D. Yamnicky Sr., 71, a decorated Navy test pilot who survived combat missions in Korea and Vietnam. His wife, Janet, was working as a nurse at Jacksonville Naval Hospital when they met. They married in 1959 and had four children, three of whom still live in Southern Maryland.
"John spent most weekends on the tractor, mowing, dragging the fields, checking the fence lines. He loved his tractors--he had two--and really enjoyed taking care of the farm on weekends or evenings. He loved seeing the improvement and changes, something not always obvious in his work with the Navy and government. We have lived on, and improved, a 10-acre horse farm in Waldorf, Maryland, for 30 years. The picture, with him holding our first grandson on the tractor, includes what was important in his life: home and family and teaching the grandchildren." -- Jann Yamnicky, wife.
John was a Naval Aviator, a true professional. I met him in the fall of 1960 at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, MD. John was in our U.S. Navy Test Pilot School class. It was Class 28. After working, studying and flying with John, I rated him as number one in all aspects of the job and from our first meeting I was impressed with him as a knowing, caring and considerate person... always with a smile and a bountiful sense of humor, the kind of gentleman you enjoy being with and having on your team. It was with particular enthusiasm that I joined up with him for our annual Tailhook Reunion and Symposiums and TPS class reunions in such places as Lexington Park, Maryland and San Diego. In fact, the last time I saw John was at Tailhook '01 in Sparks, Nevada. It was immediately before the infamous date now referred to as ... 9/11. John is aboard that great aircraft carrier in the heavens and waiting for us to come aboard.
N Lee Bausch on 2006-07-20
I remember Captain Yamnicky well. I was a member of VA-172 from June 1966 – Oct 1969. He was XO and later became CO of the squadron during that time. He was a great skipper and respected his men regardless of their rank. He was also well liked and respected by his men. My sincere thoughts and prayers go out to his family for their great loss.
Terry Johnson, Kansas City, Missouri, July 31, 2009
While serving with VA-172 Bluebolts I got to know Captain Yamnicky when he was the XO. I remember him as a very kind officer and gentleman. I learned alot from him and the Navy. He was a very respected Skipper and well liked by his men, officers and enlisted. Skipper and the men serving with him became one of the best A4 Squardron during that time. Mt thoughts are with him and all. I frequently look through my cruise books which gives me great memories. I send my condolences out to the Skipper's family.
Edward Trudeau, Ticonderoga, New York, June 18, 2009
I had the unique honor to serve as John's Assistant Operations Officer in VA-146. We made a combat deployment together on USS RANGER in 1966. John was a great leader, a true warrior, and an American patriot. I was fortunate to spend a weekend with him at a Tailhook reunion some 10 years ago. I was devastated to hear of his loss. My heart goes out to the Yamnicky family. I will never forget John with his ready smile and friendly manner, rest in peace my Shipmate.
CDR Hugh Magee, Lemon Grove, California
From Veteran Tributes:
John Yamnicky was born on June 8, 1930, in Barren Run, Pennsylvania. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in August 1948, and graduated with a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy on June 6, 1952.
Yamnicky served aboard the attack transport USS Calvert (APA-32), from June 1952 to September 1953, and then attended flight school at NAS Pensacola, Florida, where he was designated a Naval Aviator on January 26, 1955.
His next assignment was with Utility Squadron 10 (VU-10) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from January 1955 to April 1957, followed by service with Attack Squadron 46 (VA-46) flying the F9F-8 Cougar and A4D-2 Skyhawk at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, from April 1957 to December 1959. LT Yamnicky then served as a Replacement Air Group Instructor Pilot with VA-44 at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, from December 1959 to October 1960, during its transition from the AD-4 Skyraider to the A4D-2N Skyhawk.
This was followed by Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, from October 1960 to June 1961, and then service as a Flight Test Project Officer from June 1961 to October 1963. LCDR Yamnicky served with VA-125, the Replacement Air Group at NAS Lemoore, California, flying A-4 Skyhawks from October 1963 to March 1964, and then joined VA-146, flying combat missions during two deployments to Southeast Asia between June 1964 and June 1966, aboard the aircraft carriers USS Constellation (CVA-64) and USS Ranger (CVA-61).
CDR Yamnicky left VA-146 and entered the Naval War College in June 1966, graduating in June 1967. He was a replacement pilot with VA-44 at NAS Cecil Field from June to November 1967, and then served as Executive Officer of VA-172 from November 1967 to November 1968, followed by service as Commander of VA-172 from November 1968 to October 1969. During this time, CDR Yamnicky made two Mediterranean deployments aboard the aircraft carriers USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), and USS Shangri-La (CVA-38).
Capt Yamnicky then served at NAS Patuxent River, taking over as Director of the Test Pilot School in May 1972. His final assignment was at Headquarters U.S. Navy in the Pentagon, where he retired on June 30, 1979. After retiring from the Navy, John worked as a defense contractor for Veridian Corporation, and was killed while flying as a passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when terrorists crashed the plane into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.