SHERIDAN — As a 21-year-old from Nebraska, Melvin Quick found himself tens of thousands of feet in the air flying over Japan in the middle of the night. A tail gunner and bomber in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, he spent two years in Japan and flew 50 missions.
His four years in the military didn’t let him see the whole world as he had hoped, but it was enough for him to catch wanderlust. From Canada to Spain to all 50 states, Quick has traveled as much as possible in his lifetime with no plans of stopping. But for the last 30 years Quick and his wife, Dorothy, have lived in one of their favorite places: Sheridan.
Here he spends time carving wood, golfing with friends — they’re nicknamed The Outlaws — and gardening. Age hasn’t slowed him down much. He and his wife still make time to see the country with regular trips to Arizona.
Originally, though, he grew up on a ranch. While he would have been able to get a deferment from the Air Force as his father’s health wasn’t well, Quick wanted to serve his country.
“It wasn’t daunting,” he said. “It was something I knew that I needed to do.”
A part of a team of four, Quick ended up in Japan working on Langley B-26s and RB-45 Recon Bombers. The group’s goal was electronic counter measures — trying to figure out the technology Korea and Russia possessed through a radar system.
Missions lasted four hours and due to the heat, the team would fly out in the dead of night.
Every once in a while, they’d fly close to Russia and could see the lights, Quick recalled. Sometimes planes would be sent after them and Quick and his fellow men would race back to base. As a tail gunner, Quick was in the back of the plane by himself.
“There was no way anybody could get to me if anything happened,” he said.
But his youth helped him cope.
“When you’re 21, everything is fine,” Quick said.
Quick liked exploring the cities and town in Japan, often venturing into Tokyo by train. Other times he explored Japan’s countryside, seeing Buddhist temples and at one point climbing Mount Fuji. At 12,389 feet, it’s the highest mountain in the country.
To make it to the top, Quick and his friends took a bus, rode horses and walked. It was so packed at times “you could reach out and touch the person in front of you and behind you,” he said.
Upon returning to the U.S., Quick was sent to Oklahoma and with two months left in the Air Force came down with pneumonia. For the remaining few months he was flown to Texas before heading back to the family ranch in Nebraska.
He didn’t stay in his home state long. Quick wanted to be closer to mountains.
“The mountains got me,” Quick said. “I fell in love with them and ever since I’ve been where I can see the mountains.”
He moved to Denver where he met his wife. The couple then moved to Kalispell, Montana, but Quick soon realized it wasn’t the place for them. There was not enough sun for his taste. In a rare but memorable occasion, God told him to move to Sheridan, he said, and within a week the Quicks packed up and headed to Wyoming.
Already having seen so much of the world, Quick wouldn’t let settling down in Sheridan stop him from traveling. Seeing how different people live is a valuable experience, he said.
Jumping into a fifth-wheel trailer, the Quicks explored every state at least once. It’s not something Quick does much anymore though.
“You reach an era where all your friends are not doing the things you used to do,” he said.
While time may prevent his ability to travel as much as he’d like, some things for Quick haven’t changed. From childhood to adulthood, faith has been a priority.
“I know who’s in charge,” Quick said, smiling.
This has been proven to him time and time again. When he owned an appliance repair business in Sheridan, he was crossing a yard and slipped on ice with his toolbox. Falling, he was paralyzed from the waist down. He didn’t work for more than two years.
An operation later and a trip to Colorado for parts, a former boss offered him a teaching job. To Quick, this just meant another adventure.
“I said ‘High school kids? I want nothing to do with them,’” Quick said. “He said ‘It pays $10,000 a year.’ I said ‘When do I start?’”
Quick taught for five years before having another back surgery and retiring from teaching. Overall he’s had 12 operations.
“When we were in business in Boulder (Colorado) I thought we had it made,” he said. “But then I had a back operation and had all that taken away from me, but God gave me what I needed to keep on going.”
Even with all of the challenges he’s faced, Quick feels lucky. Three children, multiple grandchildren and a lifetime of experience make it hard for him to think of anything else for his bucket list. Quick said his doctor thinks this is a problem, but with his usual matter-of-fact attitude, Quick isn’t worried.
He’s flown over Japan, worked as a silver smith, carved cottonwood and diamond willow cane, seen the pope in Rome and has spent 58 years square dancing with his wife and friends. While he’s done a lot and has few big adventures left ahead of him, Quick said he isn’t ready to call it quits.
“You have two options: to lay down and die or keeping on going,” Quick said.
Quick is planning a trip to North Dakota in August.