J. Y. Hamrick
Soldier, Athlete, Carpenter
By Don Bailey
At approximately 8:00 PM on the evening of November 7, 2012 J. Y. Hamrick deplaned in Columbia, South Carolina at the end of an Honor Air flight returning from Washington DC. He was surprised then to find bands playing, dozens of South Carolina highway patrol officers saluting, and upwards of 1000 people turned out to honor the WWII veterans on the flight. Honor Air, along with the National Honor Flight program, has flown over 100,000 WWII veterans to the nation’s capitol to view their memorial, the World War II Memorial. Hamrick said of his flight, “It was grade A all the way.”
Hamrick was escorted to Washington, DC on the Honor Flight by attorney Kendall Walker, the son of one of J. Y.’s army colleagues, Dale Walker. Dale was a native of Pennsylvania but Kendall came to South Carolina to attend Bob Jones University, and remained in the Palmetto State. Kendall escorted J. Y. as a way to honor his father Dale, but he was also an old family friend of the Hamrick’s. He had attended one of the reunions of J. Y.’s company. And over the years he had visited with the Hamrick family from time to time as he passed from Columbia to the North Carolina mountains to retrieve his children from summer camp.
J. Y. Hamrick was born October 2, 1920 in the Mt. Pleasant community in southwest Cleveland County, NC. At about the age of 2 his family moved to the State Line area in northern Cherokee County in South Carolina, where his home has remained to this day. He attended grammar school at the State Line School, and for his first year of high school (then 8th grade) he went to Chesnee High School. Because of the loss of his family home in a fire J. Y. then dropped out of school for about one year. Afterward, even though he continued to live in South Carolina, he transferred to Cliffside High School where he graduated in the class of 1940.
While in high school Hamrick played basketball in the old Baptist church which had been converted into a gym. He also played football, which was a new sport for him. In fact J. Y. asserts that the first actual football contest he ever saw was also the first game in which he played. This first game was against Forest City and ended in a zero, zero tie.
During J. Y.’s tenure Cliffside was not playing the (more small-school friendly) six man ball that many remember. The high school was then playing teams from Forest City, Lenoir, Marion and Shelby, and in comparison they seemed more like college teams. In fact J. Y. does not remember Cliffside winning any games. He does remember his last game. Cliffside was playing Shelby in sleet and snow and J. Y. suffered a fairly severe leg injury.
After high school J. Y. helped his father on the family farm until 1942, at which time he was drafted into the infantry. Early on in his service he shared a barrack with Henry Kissinger, yes, that Henry Kissinger. J. Y. remembers him as a “little ole skinny boy” like all the others. Kissinger was rather quickly moved to headquarters because of his fluency in German. It is interesting that Kissinger signed his name on a company souvenir as “PVT (temporarily) Henry Kissinger, Esquire.”
In 1944 J. Y. entered Europe a month or so after the Normandy landing. By that time France had pretty well been taken and, according to Hamrick, he “rode Patton’s tanks through Germany” as the allies had the Germans on the run. Nonetheless he fought in three major battles—the most famous of which was the Battle of the Bulge.
After the war was concluded, but he was still in service, J. Y. played baseball, as pitcher, on both his regimental team and his division team. He modestly asserts that one had to be “pretty good” to make the division team. While he can recall no names, he does remember that many of his teammates were professional baseball players.
In January of 1946 J. Y. was discharged from the service and in June of that same year he married Jewel Hammett. For a year or so then he was enrolled in a GI Bill agricultural program and played baseball with Gaffney in the semipro Eastern Carolina League. Sometime in 1947 Hamrick began work at the Chesnee Mill as a carpenter, where he also played baseball on the Chesnee Mill team in the Spartanburg League. He continued in both pursuits until late 1955 or early 1956. Then for a short while he worked as a carpenter building schools in Georgia.
In 1956 J. Y. began work for Cliffside Mills as a carpenter. When he began work at Cliffside there were approximately 400 mill houses to maintain. When, Hamrick retired 29 years later there were less than a dozen. Mr. Hamrick recalls roofing houses and installing bathrooms in all the houses not already having them. (For the most part, the mill houses’ back porches were enclosed and converted into bathrooms.) Hamrick is quick to say that his crew maintained the houses and “school boys” were hired to demolish them.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of the Cliffside Chimes, newsletter of the Cliffside Historical Society.