A Life Well Done: John Hamers, WWII Vet & Retired Bishop

MOUNT VERNON -- Sitting in his apartment at a retirement community in Mount Vernon, John Hamers points to two photos. One shows a group of young men, including himself, posing on top of a United States Navy aircraft during World War II.

The other photo is of Hamers, years later, as a bishop with the Anglican Church.

At 92 years old, Hamers has lived a full life.

"I went from this ... to this," he said, pointing at the two photos.

Two weeks after Hamers graduated high school in Poulsbo, he joined the Navy in 1942 at the age of 17.

By 19 years old, Hamers was stationed in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska in the northern Pacific Ocean, where he was part of a combat air crew. Hamers and his crew flew the first Navy plane to bomb Japan during World War II.

That mission, which flew from Alaska to Japan and back, was the first of its kind to travel the consecutive, near 14-hour journey.

Hamers said the Navy had never tested this flight route, and that when they left for the mission, the crew was not completely sure they would succeed.

"It was part of your job," he said. "They said you gotta go, so you gotta go."

Hamers' plane successfully made the trip, which included taking photos and dropping bombs in Japan before returning back to Alaska.

"The mechanics told us when we landed that we had about 10 minutes of fuel left in the aircraft," he said. "We had an angel under each wing."

He reflected on growing up in Kitsap County where he said his classmates included children of Japanese farmers; Hamers said when World War II began, the government came and took those the Japanese residents to internment camps.

"There were tears shed in the hallway of my high school because they took friends off to internment camps and there I was dropping bombs on their ancestors," Hamers said.

By the age of 21, the war had ended and Hamers was discharged from service.

From there, Hamers attended college, became a radio announcer, had a family and later practiced accounting for 15 years in San Luis Obispo, California.

After selling his accounting practice, Hamers decided to become a minister in the Anglican Church. He said it's hard to explain why he made the career change.

"The good Lord grabbed me by the neck and said, 'Why don't you go do something worthwhile,' so that is what I did," he said.

In 1970, Hamers helped start St. Barnabas Anglican Church in Shoreline, where he served for 22 years.

Ten years after the church was established, Hamers was appointed a bishop in the Anglican Church at the age of 56. His jurisdiction included churches from Fairbanks, Alaska, to San Diego. By the time he retired, Hamers had 15 Anglican churches in his jurisdiction.

"My greatest privilege was that the good Lord let me serve in the ministry and in terms of satisfaction and accomplishment, I feel best about that," he said.

After Hamers retired, he helped establish Trinity Anglican Church in Mount Vernon and continued to teach Bible classes until two years ago.

"I've got a big mouth and I enjoyed teaching and preaching more than anything else," he said.

At 92, Hamers acknowledges he does not have much time left.

"Out of old age, the thing I resent the worst is my inability to get outdoors," he said. "The warranty runs out on my body parts."

Hamers is in Hospice care and said his kidneys are not in good shape.

Hamers said he has met many good people in his lifetime.

"There are a lot of good people in this world and there are some rascals," he said. "I've found that has nothing to do with gender or skin color, there are decent folks everywhere and there are rascals everywhere ... it's tragic but that's human nature."

Hamers said he has good memories of working with his fellow veterans and the flight crew during his time in the Navy, and said they were some of the finest men in the world. Hamers is the only surviving member of his flight crew.

In nearing the end, Hamers said, his biggest frustration is wishing he had done things he hadn't, or having regrets. But he said you have to live with that.

"I count my blessings and I have had more blessings than I have deserved, so I can't complain too much," he said.

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Reporter Marilyn Napier: 360-416-2149, mnapier@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter:@Marilyn_SVH, facebook.com/MarilynReports

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