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Dedicated Korean War Navy Medic Worked “Feverishly” to Save Lives

Image of Profile photo of a sailor. For his service during the Korean War, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Francis “Doc” Hammond, a hospitalman, was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor in 1953. (Photo: Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command)

As a 21-year-old hospitalman in the Korean War, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Francis "Doc" Hammond saved countless lives during intense battles with enemy forces before losing his own in March 1953.

For his acts of valor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Hammond a posthumous Medal of Honor.

“His great personal valor in the face of overwhelming odds enhances and sustains the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country,” reads the citation.

Life and Career

Born in 1931 in Alexandria, Virginia, Hammond expected to follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a pharmacist after graduating from George Washington High School.

But as the Korean War raged into its second year, he instead decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy as a seaman recruit on March 20, 1951.

For close to two years, Hammond trained at the Naval Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Illinois; the Naval Hospital at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, in Vallejo, California; and the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, California, to become a hospitalman.

He learned to care for the wounded, set up aid stations, perform field medicine, and coordinate the evacuation of injured service members from battlefield.

As stated in an account from the Naval History and Heritage Command, hospitalmen were trained to do “everything and anything in their power to keep their patients alive” until they could be transported to the nearest mobile Army surgical hospital units, where their odds of survival were much higher.

In February 1953, Hammond was deployed to the Korean Peninsula, and attached to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Division, Fleet Marine Force, where he quickly earned the respect and admiration of his comrades.

Hammond got to work as soon as he arrived in Korea.

“On his very first patrol, one of his comrades at the head of the group stepped on a mine,” said U.S. Marine Pfc. Robert S. Durham, a member of Hammond’s platoon, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Durham said Hammond saved his first life that night as he “charged through the whole group, and when he found that he could not get through the wire fast enough, he ran right through the minefield to treat the wounded man.”

The night of March 25 saw the beginning of the Battle for Outpost Vegas. U.S. Marine Sgt. William Janzen, his platoon sergeant, described the young Hammond as “the bravest man I saw out there that night … his actions were an inspiration to all of us there who saw and talked with him.”

He worked “feverishly,” to treat his patients, said Janzen. “He was all over the place patching up the wounded, no matter how slight their wounds.”

He added that Hammond "was the calmest and coolest person” he saw that night. “No matter whether a man was wounded or not, he always had a few words of comfort and encouragement for everyone,” he said.

After Hammond spent nearly four hours on the battlefield administering aid to wounded comrades, his unit was ordered to withdraw, but he refused to leave. As U.S. forces fell back, he stayed behind to direct the evacuation casualties, according to historical U.S. Navy data.

“[He] did not want to leave his men,” states the Virginia War Memorial’s website.

On March 27, as he assisted the relieving unit, a round of enemy mortar fire struck and killed him. He had been scheduled to rotate out of that combat area just two weeks later.

Posthumous Honors

On June 10, 1953, Hammond was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. In December 1953, President Eisenhower presented the Medal of Honor to Hammond’s widow, Phyllis, and their 3-month-old son, Francis Junior.

In addition to receiving the nation’s highest medal for valor in combat, he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Korean Service Medal, the Navy Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Presidential Unit Citation, the United Nations Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal. For its part, the Republic of Korea awarded Hammond its Presidential Unit Citation and War Service Medal.

In 1956, his hometown of Alexandria named a new high school in his honor. Although the school became a middle school in 1993, it continues to bear his name: Francis C. Hammond Middle School.

On May 11, 1968, the U.S. Navy launched the frigate USS Francis Hammond. This World War II-era Sims-class destroyer saw action in Vietnam, Kuwait, and other military exercises until its decommissioning in 1992.

In 1988, the U.S. Marine Corps named a clinic for Hammond on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. In 2000, the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division opened a new clinic in a different location on the base, known as Camp San Mateo, and requested it be rededicated for Hammond, said Faye Jonason, history and museum division director at Camp Pendleton.

As such, the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division's Hospital Corpsman Francis C. Hammond Clinic continues to honor his legacy. For more information on Hammond’s story, read the Naval History and Heritage Command’s account.

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Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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