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Hamrick recalls Korean War experience; tribute to vets is Saturday

By Kay S. Pedrotti William Hamrick Jr. ‘“ better known as just Junior ‘“ is one of dozens of veterans of the Korean War in the area but perhaps considers himself luckier than most. Now the commander of Marion Matthews Post 6542 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Hamrick said he has been with the VFW and the American Legion since 1955. He enlisted in the Navy June 29, 1951, just as the ‘conflict’ in Asia ‘“ it was many years before Korea was called a ‘war’ ‘“ was heating up. After basic training in San Diego, Calif., he served on the destroyer USS Fechteler, ‘assigned to the engineering section, boiler room, by an aptitude test,’ he said. At age 18, he left the comfort of the United States for Korea, via more training in Hawaii and at Midway Island. ’Our first fleet destination was a coastal city in Japan, Yokosuka, that had been almost demolished by World War II bombing. We were there for six weeks then went to Okinawa where the devastation was even worse,’ he said. ‘The first combat we saw was in Inchon, Korea, where we went in with the 77th Fleet of carriers, battleships and destroyers. We fired about three or four hours of shore bombardment then went back out to resupply ammo while other ships continued the firing. On our second trip in, two of our guys were killed and many wounded by airplane bombing and fire from shore. After that we went back to Japan then back to the States for my first leave,’ he said. He was reassigned to another destroyer, USS John A. Bole, and remained on that ship for the rest of his tour. At Pusan, Korea, the fleet conducted the longest continuous sea battle on record at the time, bombarding the shore for 44 days straight, Hamrick said. He celebrated his 19th birthday firing on Wansan harbor. While he earned the rank of second class petty officer, he said he told his chief petty officer, ‘I see you’ve survived all this and I want to survive too, so I’m staying with you.’ Belowdecks, he and his fellows could not see falling bombs, strafing planes or on-shore batteries but ‘we would’ve been trapped if the ship had gotten hit down there where we were ‘“ there was just no way out.’ At one point in the Wansan battle, Hamrick ventured on deck out of sheer curiosity, he said. ’The Marines and soldiers were landing, running through fire from shore, and the Air Force was trying to knock out the enemy fire while the Navy kept firing too. That water was just as red as could be with blood. I felt so bad for those Marines and soldiers,’ he said. On active duty just four days short of four years, Hamrick said, he made one more trip to Korea in peacetime. He also ‘celebrated birthdays 20, 21 and 22 in the Navy,’ which he said was great except for the combat times. ’I was just a country boy from Meansville,’ he added, ‘who was lucky enough to get to see all kinds of places in the world.’ He married June when he got back; they had the twins Stan and Dan and Junior went to college on the GI Bill at Gordon Military and UGA. He worked for the William Carter Co. while attending school but had a 35-year career with National Life and Accident Insurance Company, now AIG. He’ll be at Barnesville Remembers on May 31 at 11 a.m. to honor all veterans and to be honored as a Korean War vet. ’Wouldn’t want to miss it,’ he said.

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