- July 23, 1922 - November 24, 2016
- Fort Walton Beach, Florida
of Daniel's Passing
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Retired Air Force Maj. Daniel R. Vicker Sr., a World War II veteran who spent 28 years in the service as a commissioned and non-commissioned officer, died Thursday at his home in Fort Walton Beach. He was 94.
After retiring from the Air Force Dan was an active local musician and entertainer, playing drums with a broad variety of local groups. He was still the principal drummer for the Emerald Coast Community Band until his age finally caught up with him at 91.
Dan grew up in the north woods paper mill town of Park Falls, Wisc., son of the local postmaster and owner of a three-lane bowling alley. His was a typical small-town youth, filled with fishing at the family's cabin in the woods on Boot Lake or on the Flambeau River, and do-it-yourself projects (a small boat, a diving helmet, etc.) he found in Boy's Life and Popular Mechanics.
But Dan had bigger dreams, and Park Falls wasn't in them. He wanted to fly, so he joined the Army Air Corps in early 1941. Something in his physical kept him out of flight school, so he trained as an aircraft mechanic instead. But he persisted, and the Air Corps finally relented. There was a mistake in the first physical, they said, and Dan finally became a pilot in July 1945, a member of Class 45-C at Marfa, Texas, Army Airfield. He became a transport pilot, flying mostly the C-46.
Although Dan itched for an overseas assignment - many of his Army buddies ended up in the China-India theater, flying cargo across the Himalayas - he instead spent the war years training and toiling at a succession of slapped-together airbases across the Midwest and Southwest. As the war neared victory, he was assigned as a troop glider instructor pilot in Greenville, S.C.
He wrote in a letter home to his parents in February 1946 about an unnamed "girlfriend here in Carolina. Maybe I accidentally led you to believe that in a letter. No, the score is still nothing to nothing on that and probably will remain that way - Ha! - just don't get along with them or maybe ‘tis too much bother, I don't know."
It's not clear which girl he was writing about, but five months later the score changed. He and Margaret Wilkerson were married in Greenville. They remained together for another 67 years until Margaret's death in 2013.
Their life in the Air Force took them all over the (mostly) northern U.S., to Japan and to Germany. After the war Dan took advantage of a little-known and little-used Air Force policy that allowed him to avoid a reduction in force by giving up his officer's commission - he remained a reserve officer - and re-enlist as a master sergeant. He was recalled to the officer corps during the Korean conflict and remained in that status until 1965, when he again re-enlisted as a non-com so he could put in four more years of active duty.
During one assignment in the Midwest Dan earned a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University.
Dan became a radar operator for most of the rest of his career. He spent a year on the DEW Line, watching for Soviet incursion across the North Pole. During that assignment he taught himself to play an accordion he bought from an ad in the back of Boy's Life.
His last assignment before retirement in 1969 was at Eglin, and he and Margaret decided they'd had enough of snow. They had bought a house on Cinco Bayou, and Dan proceeded to make it bigger, learning the tricks of masonry, carpentry and roofing as he built with his own hands first one addition and then another. He also went back to college to earn a teaching certificate, although he never used it.
Instead, Dan was drawn once again to music. He had played the euphonium at Lincoln High School in Park Falls, and he had bought a drum set while in high school to develop more marketable skills. Before he joined the Air Corps, he played with the ubiquitous polka bands that performed in the backwoods beer joints of northern Wisconsin. In the service he had been a drummer with dance bands put together with fellow airmen. But now he had free time.
Over the course of the next 40 years or so Dan played rhythm for a wide variety of musical groups: the Okaloosa County Concert Band, the Okaloosa Symphony Orchestra, the White Sands Society Dance Band. He was the longtime drummer for Southern Comfort, with Mark and Gloria Frazier, performing at the Elks Lodge and hotels on Okaloosa Island, Destin and elsewhere. He played in the pit orchestra for many Stagecrafters musical productions.
During the 1980s he was the booking agent for many local groups; when you needed a dance band or combo or pit orchestra, Dan was The Man.
He was a regular at the Eglin Officers Club with saxophonist Mike Mancini and keyboard player Leo Tisa, and at Bluewater Bay's Heidelberg Haus with accordionist Walter Sosnicki.
He was especially fond of Oktoberfest, for which he would dress up in Bavarian costume and provide a backdrop of Alpine yells to whatever band he played with.
Dan was perhaps proudest of having been the drummer for the band that backed up Bob Hope for Hope's performances here to benefit the retired enlisted housing complex that bears his name.
During those same years he took up tap dancing, joining (along with Margaret) the Highsteppers dance group. He formed a tap duo with dancing partner Becky Blackmon and set up a studio where they could practice in one of the garages he had added to the house. And then he taught himself to juggle. And also returned to the accordion, continuing to take lessons into his late 80s. He dragged Margaret and various family members to accordion festivals and juggling conventions all over the country.
Survivors include his daughter, Linda Corbin, and her husband, Will, of Fort Walton Beach; sons Daniel R. Vicker Jr., and his wife, Patty Ryan,continued...