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James Harold Hamrick
Young American Patriots

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


James Harold Hamrick

"We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's freedom."

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Just four days before Christmas in 1924, Benjamin Franklin Hamrick and his wife, Dona Jones Hamrick, welcomed their son James Harold in the small community of Swandale in Clay County, West Virginia. Many details of Sergeant Hamrick's early life, including information about his immediate family, are lacking, but he went by his middle name, and he had at least one brother who was still living in 2017. It is known that he attended Widen High School. Lola B. Given, in her column "Lola's World: News and Views," writes of a Clay/Widen alumni dinner in 2002:

Joyce Shaver Gibson led the memorial for the seven men who died in World War II from Widen. I dare say there are few small towns to have lost as many young men as Widen. . . . These men's names [include]:

James Harold Hamrick was inducted into the military service June 21, 1943, and was transferred to the Enlisted Reserve Corp [sic] the same date. He was the son of Ben and Dona Jones Hamrick. After leaving Wales, England on a mission to deliver supplies near Oslo, Norway, these men were never heard of again. The date of his death was listed as April 19, 1945. He was a tail gunner on this plane, and one of the crew of ten. His body was never recovered. He was in the 858th Bombardment Squadron, 492 Bombardment group. He was a cousin of Gerald Hamrick, also Wanda Acree. (Braxton Citizens' News, 6 August 2002.)

Once boasting a population of over 3,000, in the current century Widen counts only about 200 residents. Writing for the West Virginia Encyclopedia online, Lou Athey tells of its founding in 1911 by the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company, a collaboration of northern capitalists who wished to invest in West Virginia lumber and coal lands. Conveniently, Clay County had both. To transport these resources, the Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad was built 18.6 miles out Dundon Ridge to Widen. Vice president of the railroad, J. G. Bradley created a town at Widen designed to instill worker loyalty to the company. In addition to homes, a company store, a bank, schools, and churches arose. Eventually the town came to include a YMCA, a high school, and a swimming pool. ("Widen," e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, 19 November 2010, accessed 7 February 2017,

J. G. Bradley's companies were the tax base for Clay County; during a good year his annual payroll was more than four million dollars. (Lola B. Given, "Early Days of Widen and Dille," Hur Herald, 7 November 2016, accessed 2 February 2017,

Given notes that Bradley built three churches and a YMCA, in addition to more than one hundred company houses. The YMCA would have been a gathering place for the youth of Widen, with its bowling alley, basketball court, and theater.

This was the milieu into which James H. Hamrick entered. Although he was born at Swandale (producer of lumber), his formative years were at Widen (producer of coal). Given refers to Swandale as "another world" from Widen implying that the former held a higher position on the social scale. Nevertheless, one can imagine Harold (i.e., James Harold) grew up in the somewhat idyllic life of small-town America in the 1920s and 30s. Most likely he played ball and attended events at the Widen YMCA.

Strikes in 1933 and 1941 occurred as the United Mine Workers continued to organize despite the many benefits the company provided. Then in 1952, a bitter strike, lasting 16 months, killing one man, and disrupting families, caused Bradley to sell the mines. The area never recovered, although Widen continued to produce some coal until 1963, when both the mines and the railroad shut down.

U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, show that eighteen-and-a-half-year-old James Harold Hamrick enlisted at Huntington, West Virginia, and had three years of high school. Single at the time, he stated he had dependents-quite possibly his mother and father, or perhaps siblings. His enlistment record provides little additional information about the man and his character. Cousin Ronnie Hamrick cites family lore as saying "he was a real good guy and enjoyed life." An entry in Young American Patriots notes that he was of the Methodist faith and entered service at Miami Beach, Florida.

Details about James Hamrick's military service are more readily obtained by tracking the group to which he was attached. Now in the fledgling Army Air Corps, he was assigned to the 858th Bomber Squadron, 492nd Bomber Group, Heavy. By the time of his death, he had advanced to the rank of sergeant. As such, he was involved in vital missions, flying on a B-24 Liberator Bomber, a famed aircraft, but one with a staggering history of losses. His plane was nicknamed "The Old Goat."
Sgt. James Harold Hamrick strikes a characteristic World War II pose. Courtesy cousin Marmel O'Brien, via Ronnie Hamrick

Sgt. James Harold Hamrick strikes a characteristic World War II pose. Courtesy cousin Marmel O'Brien, via Ronnie Hamrick

Ronnie Hamrick's meticulous research has found that there were actually two different 492nd Bombardments Groups in World War II. The first group flying out of North Pickenham, England, was a regular heavy bombardment outfit flying typical daylight missions over Axis Europe; it was not the 492nd that Harold flew with. Toward the end of the summer of 1944, the 8th Air Force was ordered to disband one of its B-24 groups for the purpose of handing over its identity to the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) arm in the European Theater of Operations. This group was the 801st Provisional Group, also known as "The Carpetbaggers." This group had been successfully conducting covert missions for several months and was in need of a working cover. Due to their high casualties, the identity of the 492nd was chosen as a cover . To recapitulate, the original 492nd out of North Pickenham flew daylight bombing missions until August 7, 1944. The other, the 801st/492nd ("The Carpetbaggers") flew covert night missions out of Harrington. This information would concur with the known fact that Harold's bomber went down over the North Sea on the night of April 19/20, 1945.

Neither the winding down of the war nor the change in the mission of the 492nd (from bombardment to covert operations) was enough to spare the life of Sgt. Hamrick in April 1945. In an e-mail dated November 29, 2008, Ronnie Hamrick, cousin of Harold, writes:

[James Harold Hamrick] was the Flight Engineer on a B-24 bomber . . . [not a tail gunner as is mentioned in some accounts]. He was a member of the 492nd Bombardment Group known as the "Carpetbaggers." His squadron was the 858th Bomb Squadron. The purpose of the Carpetbagger project was to fly "Special Operations" delivering supplies to resistance groups in enemy occupied countries and to deliver personnel to the field and sometimes to bring back personnel from the field. Their work was very secretive being that it was with the O.S.S., which was a precursor to our CIA.

His bomber was brought down due to enemy aircraft and enemy antiaircraft damage. It went down over the North Sea on the night of April 19/20, 1945 on a mission to Norway. All aboard were killed or missing. The remains of the co-pilot F/O Milan J. Mihocik were brought up entangled in the fishing net of a Norwegian fisherman by his parachute cords, but were allowed to sink back into the water after his dogtags were removed proving that they went down over the water.

Others on the plane, in addition to Hamrick and Mihocik, were 2nd Lt. William R. Shaw, pilot; F/O Richard R. Edwards, navigator; 2nd Lt. George M Alseth, radar N-B; F/O Merrill E. Majors Jr., bombardier; Sergeants Charles S. Baker, Robert A. Eagan, and Chalmer M. Hale, gunners; Sgt. Eugene J. Hollub, radio operator; and Sgt. Frederick J. Patrinos, gunner.

An account on Fold3 indicates that, including Sgt. Hamrick, there were three men from West Virginia on the aircraft. Tail Gunner Sgt. Chalmer M. Hale of Raleigh County also perished, as did Flexible Gunner Sgt. Charles S. Baker of Braxton County. In one of the many ironies of war, the same day Harold was killed in action, his relative Leon Shelburn Paxton, who died at Cisterna, Italy, on January 20, 1944, was declared dead.

Sculpture of a Soldier at the Wall of the Missing, Cambridge American Cemetery. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Sculpture of a Soldier at the Wall of the Missing, Cambridge American Cemetery. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

With no remains for a burial, today Sgt. James Harold Hamrick is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the Cambridge American Cemetery in England. Sgt. Hamrick received both a Purple Heart and the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure, who gratefully acknowledges the work of Ronnie Hamrick, who contributed family information and military history. Hamrick is working on a book about Clay County veterans who served in World War II.
February 2017, revised August 2019


James Harold Hamrick

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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