Everyone who knew Porter Hamrick said the same thing: He never met a stranger, and he was fiercely dedicated to service.
The beloved Indian Head resident died June 30 at 97 years old. Throughout his life, Hamrick was many things to many people. A native of West Virginia, he’d driven tanks in the U.S. Army’s 12th Armored Division, 493rd Battalion, A Battery in World War II and then again with his reserve unit in the Korean War with the Heavy Weapons, D Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
Hamrick and his family moved to town in 1962 for a job at what is now the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Division, and quickly made the town home and neighbors of its residents. He worked at a variety of gas stations around town and joined the Indian Head Volunteer Fire Department, rising to the rank of assistant fire chief for a time.
Hamrick remained an active member up until he died, being recognized in 2013 as the county’s oldest.
Hamrick’s impact on the community was clearly evident at his funeral and internment services on July 6. The morning service at Indian Head Baptist Church, where Hamrick was a congregant and usher in life, was a standing-room-only affair. A slideshow of scenes from Hamrick’s life played on a loop over his flag-draped casket before the service began: Porter with his children, Porter as a child with his family, as Santa in Indian Head’s Christmas parade.
At the end of the funeral service, about 40 vehicles processed down Route 210, Hawthorne Road, Washington Avenue, St. Charles Parkway and then Route 5 before arriving at his final resting place, Trinity Memorial Gardens in Waldorf, where he was laid to rest with military honors. For the entire 23-mile journey, firetrucks blocked traffic at major intersections, their crews standing to salute as the procession passed. A large American flag hung off the cranes of firetrucks outside his final resting place.
Hamrick’s daughters Judith Buschman and Sara Prebble eulogized their father at his service. Their dad had married their mom, Betty, in August 1950 without his parent’s knowledge, before he was deployed to Korea that December. When he’d been overseas in World War II, Buschman told those gathered, Porter had helped rescue the crew of an airplane that had gone down. That plane was named the “Judith Ann,” she said, and he so liked that name he vowed he’d one day name his daughter the same. She was born while her father was overseas fighting in Korea, Judith said, and her mom sent over a lock of her red hair: He carried that lock of hair with him for 29 years before he returned it to his daughter.
Both women recalled their father as a warm and loving man dedicated to his family and community.
“Dad always worked hard,” Prebble said. “He was definitely a people person.”
Buschman recalled his love of animals and children, and their shared affection for him: Even squirrels seemed to flock to her father, Buschman said.
“We’re proud of and grateful for our father, grandfather and great-grandfather,” Buschman said. “We love you, dad.”
Hamrick spread his love of community service to his family: Betty worked at Indian Head Town Hall for 27 years, and sons Phillip and Dave both joined volunteer fire outfits in the county. Phillip served from 2006-2008 as the chief at the Bryans Road VFD, and Dave is currently the vice president there.
Dave Hamrick recalled his father’s life as a model for his own. He recalled how at the gas stations Porter worked at, people would regularly come and ask for him by name, because they knew working with him meant they’d get excellent service at a fair price.
“He was a good father,” Dave Hamrick said. “He instilled a good work ethic in me. He was honest and fair, and he tried to instill the same in me.”
Wayne Higdon, assistant fire chief at the Indian Head VFD, said he knew Hamrick for more than 50 years. Higdon called his longtime friend an “all-around nice guy” and “a hard man to match,” pointing to the renaming of the Indian Head Firefighter of the Year award to the Porter Hamrick Firefighter of the Year award as just one example of his value to the station and community.
“He was really honored and well looked-upon in the fire service in Indian Head and in the county,” Higdon said. “He kept going until the end when his health failed him. He was ready, willing and able to help out at any time.”
Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin’s grandparents lived across the street from the Hamricks when he was a child, Paulin said, and so he grew up knowing Porter, whom he frequently called his favorite resident of the town. He recalled Hamrick playing with him as a kid, pushing him along in a three-wheeler, sometimes into ditches on the side of Prospect Avenue. When Paulin was elected mayor in 2015, he presented Hamrick with a key to the town, which he called “the easiest decision I’ve made in my tenure as mayor.”
“He was a funny guy, tons of energy despite being up there in age,” Paulin said. “He had a nice, warm, welcoming energy and could always tell you a joke. I think that’s what we’ll miss the most. If we could have a whole bunch of Porters in town, I’d take it 100% of the time.”
Paulin said he felt Hamrick’s dedication to service was something anyone could learn from, along with how he always worked with a smile.
“He served his country, he served the town, he served the fire department. That was his life. He served. He loved his family, and that’s the model,” Paulin said. “I think we can learn from Porter to laugh more and serve our community selflessly.”
“Mr. Hamrick represented the best of American values,” Vice Mayor Ron Sitoula said. “He served the country during war times and in peace times with dignity and honesty. He loved the Indian Head community. Our town was very blessed with his presence.”
“Mr. Hamrick was a local legend who proudly served the nation in World War II and the Korean War,” Councilman Curtis Smith wrote in an email. “Porter has never met a stranger. He will be missed.”
Longtime family friend Steve Rison recalled a fun-loving, helpful and gentle man.
“Porter was always telling some story you’d get to believing before realizing it was a joke,” Rison said. “Porter would do anything. He was always willing to help, even when he was 80. He’s a guy you could always count on. He was always real. There was nothing fake about him, always genuine, always trying to get you to laugh.”
Louis Knight, a friend of Hamrick’s he made through local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, said Hamrick was “a very happy, jolly person.” He never missed meetings, and made sure to keep in contact with his fellow members and update the group on how members in poor health were faring.
“He was the type of person you looked to for wisdom and guidance,” Knight said, pointing to the wealth of knowledge Hamrick gained from his military service. “I’m a retired Air Force guy. I spent almost 26 years in, and ... when I’d write performance reviews, I’d always look for one thing, and that was consistency. Porter was the type of person if I had to write a review of him, that’s what I’d say.”
“One of the things I’ve learned about life is we’re not born into who we are,” Knight added. “Someone has to teach us everything. Porter is an individual who people can learn from by example.”