No matter who drives by, Encampment World War II veteran Dick Ament will wave.
More often than not he knows the person. He’s lived in Encampment since 1980 and spends a lot of time outside waving.
“Hey, there she goes,” he said recently, pointing at a truck driving down Encampment’s only paved road.
“She had a heck of a wreck about two months ago. She’s six months older than me.”
He sits in a small metal chair in front of his shed, wedged between is house and the Encampment VFW building. He’s not there in the mornings, going out when the afternoon shade builds from his garage, creeping slowly over his yard.
Ament’s retired now; at 86, employment options are slim. So he fills his time waving and volunteering.
He enlisted in the Navy in 1944 as a senior in high school in Marcus, Iowa. By the end of the year, after amphibious training and several short command posts, he sailed for Saipan to clean up at the tail end of the invasion.
“Some of it was scary as hell. Landing on Saipan was the scariest,” he said.
Ament’s job was to drive a landing craft boat from his ship to the island, dropping off 36 Marines at a time. He doesn’t remember much of the driving, other than shooting and bombings were happening over the top of his ship.
“You do what you can do and what you’re told to do, and that was head for the beach,” he said.
The long battle ultimately killed nearly 3,000 American troops and wounded more than 10,000.
When he talks about the war, he doesn’t like to talk about the gory stuff. Instead of battle stories he waves. Most of the time people wave back, but sometimes the cottonwood covers him, or the drivers are too distracted to look around.
“Hey, Dick, wave, darnit!” he said, the truck passing by, the driver focused on the road.
“That’s a World War II boy, he was in the Air Force. He’s been around the world in airplanes, here and there.”
When Ament finally landed on Saipan, the bulk of the fighting over, the tiny island in the Marianas was desolate.
“The little town of Garapan was flattened,” he said.
“It wasn’t really a town, more of a settlement, and the tallest thing left was maybe eight inches high.”
That thing was a cross.
“It was sitting there above everything else. It made you think; maybe I should go to church a little bit.”
Once on the island, Ament’s job was to repair mechanics on landing crafts. He worked on Pier Charlie, as the men called it, mostly out of a Quonset hut.
After Pier Charlie, the Navy’s construction team built a health clinic on the hill and dining hall. Those buildings completed the island’s meager facilities.
Japanese soldiers still lived on the island, hiding in caves in the mountains. One tried sneaking into their food line in the dining hall.
“He had American clothes, and he got hungry and got in the chow line,” Ament said,
“When you get hungry, you’ll do anything. They interrogated him but they were nice to him.”
By then the war was over even though American troops still occupied the island. In May 1946, about nine months after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs, Ament went home.
He wanted to bring a Japanese machine gun he’d acquired on the island back with him but the officer on his ship wouldn’t let it aboard.
“I don’t know if they thought I was going to be some kind of Al Capone,” he said.
“I told him I got it fair and square, why couldn’t I take it home? It’s in the ocean now somewhere.”
Like many men returning home, Ament back to Iowa to see the girlfriend he’d left behind. She wrote him every day he was gone but Sundays.
“If we didn’t get mail for three weeks, I’d get 18 letters,” he said.
He wanted to surprise her when he came home but was instead surprised himself. She was married, even as she wrote him letters.
He laughs about it now, but admits it wasn’t so funny when it happened.
At 21 he married and eventually had six children, then adopted four more. They ultimately divorced and he remarried a woman with seven kids, bringing his total count to 17 children.
“You know what they call a fellow with a granddaughter that becomes a grandmother?”
After all his kids were grown and gone, Ament still looked for ways to help and be involved. He teaches hunter safety and driver safety programs. For the past 10 years he’s volunteered at the Wyoming Hunting and Fishing Heritage Expo in Casper.
He met a couple game wardens there several years ago as he worked the air rifle station. They said they knew him and pulled out their hunter-safety cards. More than a decade ago he’d been their teacher.
As he talked about his kids, old age and bits from the war, he waved again at Encampment’s police officer, making another pass through town.
“If you want to visit with the police here you just flag them down and talk.”
Reach Open Spaces reporter Christine Peterson at (307) 460-9598 or firstname.lastname@example.org.