Hoosier Hero helps shape America with Cold War service in Navy, time at FBI

INDIANAPOLIS – Only a select few Hoosiers can say they played a pivotal role in the events that have shaped America.

One of those, a Hoosier Hero who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, and served his country during the Cold War.

“I was in the Navy reserves at the time,” Donald Hamrick said. “I just decided I liked being in the Navy.”

Hamrick was just a boy growing up in Terre Haute as World War II raged on halfway around the world. Still when he graduated from high school in 1950, he didn’t think twice before enlisting in the Navy.

Hamrick became a radar petty officer and was assigned to the USS Harlan R. Dickson, a destroyer sent to patrol the Mediterranean during the Cold War.

“Well I know at the Dardanelles, we were at one end of it, the open end into the Mediterranean and the Russian fleet was at the other end coming down,” he said. “So we were the only ship between the Russian fleet and free water. It got a little tense.”

After two years in the Navy, Hamrick returned to Terre Haute to pursue his college education, graduating from Indiana State University with degrees in physical education and math. Hamrick took a position at a local high school as a coach.

Soon after he met a man who would inspire yet another career move for Hamrick, putting him back in the service of his country.

“I had a boy in school whose father was an FBI agent,” he said. “And I got to know him. He impressed me.”

Hamrick trained at Quantico to become an agent himself.

Eventually he was sent to Jackson, Mississippi during the height of the Civil Rights movement where he helped investigate the murder of Civil Rights leader, and voting rights activist, Vernon Dahmer.

“One night the Klan targeted Vernon, and Vernon made a fight out of it,” he said. “He was killed.”

Hamrick spent just 13 months in Mississippi, but his work led to charges against 18 men including imperial wizard Sam Bowers, who ordered Dahmer’s murder.

“That led to a long investigation of the Klan,” Hamrick said. “It was thought that, that we made arrests some of the imperial wizards and some of the ranking officials of the Klan.”

Hamrick moved from Mississippi to Philadelphia where he retired. It was there the U.S. Government called him to serve again, this time working in counter-terrorism.

“Occasionally be solicited to come down and work with a team out of Washington, counter-terrorism team,” he said. “Worked with a couple three years, then ended up on the job full time.”

Hamrick spent 20 years with counter-terrorism, spending time in the Mediterranean, the Gaza Strip and several Middle Eastern countries, something he said he would do again.

“Oh it was fun,” he said. “Oh I met the King of Jordan, having a cocktail with him, kinda special.”

Hamrick now spends his days at home at Rosegate, an American Senior Community in Indianapolis.

And while his name may not be in the history books, Hamrick a true Hoosier Hero, played a key role in U.S. history, leaving other Hoosiers with a word of advice.

“Keep your nose clean,” he said. “It’s a great country to live in. Just be proud of what you are.”

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