MINT HILL, NC – Corporal Kenneth “Ken” Hamrick has lived in Mint Hill since the 1960s. He was born on August 18, 1931, in Rutherford County, North Carolina. He grew up on a farm where he worked the land and took care of the animals.
Ken attended Cliffside Park High School, which today stands as a historic building site. He had to leave school at the age of 16 and went to work at a local area cotton mill.
At age eighteen, Ken met Doris, who became his girlfriend; they dated for a year and married in November 1950. Ken was nineteen at the time, but just two years later at twenty-one, he was drafted into the United States Army on December 4, 1952. He did his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He completed basic and infantry training at the base in sixteen weeks.
Ken mentioned a story that stands out most. “I had been working in a hot factory,” recalls Ken. “It was always really hot. So they took me down to Fort Jackson, and laying down on wet damp sawdust learning how to zero in an M1 rifle, I got sick for Christmas, the first and only time in my life. Anyway, I did not go on sick call, but I was sick as a dog.” He only ended up shooting his M1 rifle twice; he missed the target the first time, made an adjustment, and hit the target the second time. The sergeant said to him, “Get outta here!” moving him off the firing range. It was the only time he shot the M1 rifle prior to going overseas.
This is interesting because normally soldiers spend more time on the firing range to get more familiar with their primary weapon. Ken was shipped out to Fort Lewis, Washington, for more preparation before being assigned to Korea. This was called (POM), Preparation for Overseas Movement.
Meanwhile, Doris obtained a job and lived in Spindale, North Carolina, a mill town, first with a friend and then her sister while Ken was serving his country.
In March of 1953, Ken sailed to Yokohama, Japan with 3,500 fellow soldiers on the USNS Marine Lynx. He was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division. He remembers the voyage on the ship was rough, and many soldiers became seasick, especially during a storm when the ship was severely rolling in high seas.
After arriving in Japan, Ken took a train ride to Tokyo. When he returned, he sailed from Japan directly to Korea. He recalls the soldiers had to climb down long netting draped over the side of the ship to the landing craft bobbing up and down below to take them to the Korean shoreline.
When they arrived, they could already hear enemy fire in the distance. The soldiers all climbed onto a convoy of waiting trucks that would take them to their destination several hours later. They stopped somewhere in the night, and the next morning a man “all dressed up” from the Red Cross, “jumped up on a table” and spoke to the soldiers. “This guy really turned me off,” recalls Ken. His message was cold: “‘I don’t care if your mother died, your dad died, your wife died, you ain’t going’ nowhere.’ That’s about all he had to say. I can only assume this was his way to welcome and prepare the new arriving soldiers to hell on earth.”
Ken joined a unit as a replacement since the unit had a high casualty rate. He was awakened while in his tent over a fight between two soldiers outside of the tent and saw another soldier begging for a truck to run over him. “The soldier then began to beat his head with a post,” Ken said. He began to wonder what kind of place is this that brings men to such violence and despair?
The 7th Infantry Division “Operation Showdown” was launched in 1952. The division received high marks and praise for their gallantry and tenacity while in combat. The division continued patrolling the area around Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill into 1953. They dug in with tunnels and built a large network of bunkers and outposts on and around the perimeter.
Ken said he was sent to the front many times and had to go into “No Man’s Land” several times to establish a semi-circular patrol. “I remember for a period of 21 days, we only stopped to rest for two hours a day, and in that time we had to eat, write a letter, or get some sleep,” says Ken. “The rest of the time we were on our feet. At night, I would sleep standing on my feet.”
“I was an assistant BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man,” continues Ken. “I had too much weight to carry. I had a flak jacket, steel pot helmet, my M1 rifle, two hand grenades, 200 BAR rounds divided into 40-round pouches, and two or three bandoliers around my neck with six or seven clips each. When we got up to Pork Chop Hill, I ran up to a machine-gun bunker. I stuck my hands and rifle through the hole, and two guys pulled me through that tight space. My lieutenant yelled at me to start firing and eliminate those snipers – this was in April.”
On a July 6 attack, the enemy fired almost 20,000 artillery rounds onto Pork Chop Hill and the surrounding hills. The U.N. forces had similar weapons along with tank recoilless rifle fire, anti-aircraft guns, and quad .50-caliber machine guns. “We were pinned down, but we were ready for the fight,” said Ken. The Chinese had the higher ground on Pork Chop Hill, which gave them an advantage to accurately fire down on the American positions.
The battle turned into hand-to-hand fighting, which is the most brutal of all combat experiences. Suddenly, a hand grenade landed three feet from Ken’s position. He hit the ground and landed face down, putting his hands over his head. Miraculously, he was uninjured. “I didn’t get even a scratch!” he says.
However, as the battle continued, Ken’s luck was about to run out. As his platoon was advancing forward to push the Chinese back, an artillery shell came whizzing toward his position. The blast left shrapnel in his lower right leg. He still carries the shrapnel today. Then, without any warning, a dozen or so hand grenades flew in his direction. “There were so many I couldn’t get away,” says Ken. “The medic tried to cut my belt off, but then he got hit in the face. He had just returned from R&R. I got hit in the upper arm, leaving a gash a couple of inches long.”
However, Ken still had another injury coming his way. When he reached the line of sandbags, he huddled there; as more artillery shells rained down on his position, he was hit again. He felt a stab of pain on his side and reached his uninjured left hand down to feel the wound. He had a hole in his side the size of his four fingers, and he could hear the blood flowing like water. He knew he had to receive medical attention quickly, so he crawled toward a tank without its turret, with a metal box welded on it being used as a medical transport vehicle.
A soldier noticed Ken and said he would return for him. As Ken lay in the mud, he could hear the blood draining from his wound. He was getting weaker as he waited for help to arrive, but then, something unusual happened. “I promised God I’d live for him,” says Ken. “I felt something strange at my feet, and it came up my body, I felt no more pain.” He still believes today that God was watching out for him.
The help finally arrived, and Ken was placed on his back in the medical tank. Ironically, a soldier sat on top of him when an artillery round landed near the tank; the vehicle convulsed, but Ken was not harmed. He was transported to an airstrip, and was flown to the 382nd General Hospital in Kannoka, Japan, where the surgeons took “seven feet of guts out of me,” as Ken recalls. He ended up spending three months in the hospital with his wound needing constant cleaning to avoid any infections.
Upon his release from the hospital, Ken spent 13 months in Japan working in a motor pool. He returned stateside and was discharged from the Army on November 5, 1954. He came home to his beloved Doris to father two daughters and work hard as a welder who earned a good steady living to support his family. Ken enjoys his retirement and still resides with his wife Doris of 70 years in Mint Hill.