QUINCY, Ill. (WGEM) - The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration given to a soldier. That soldier has to go above and beyond the call of duty against the enemy, and risk his own life.
On August 14, 1952 during the Korean War, a Quincy man did just that.
21-year-old Lester Hammond, Junior sacrificed his own life to save five men, and likely countless other lives that day.
Hammond was a radio operator with Company A of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team.
In the early morning hours of August 14, 1952, Corporal Hammond was one of six men on a reconnaissance patrol in the Kumhwa Valley in North Korea.
Hammond's patrol had penetrated about 3500 yards into enemy territory when they were ambushed by hundreds of Chinese soldiers.
Lieutenant Walter Klepeis, a forward observer for a field artillery battalion, filed a report on what he witnessed that morning, including his communications with Corporal Hammond.
The battery began firing on the Chinese advancing on the patrol. A short time later, Klepeis would hear from Hammond for the first time. He said, "keep firing, your shells are landing right on them...There are many dead...Keep firing."
A short time later, Hammond reported he had been shot in the leg, but he continued to radio in reports to help adjust incoming fire. Then the radio went silent for about 15 minutes.
Just when Klepeis was ready to cease firing in Hammond's area, Lester was back on the radio, his voice weaker, but requesting the battery to "keep shooting."
Despite being wounded a second time, Lester waived off a rescue attempt.
Instead he asked them to fire on his exact position. Klepheis hesitated knowing it would mean certain death for Lester, but would likely save the lives of others.
Hammond's last words came across the radio, "For God's sake, Lieutenant, keep firing."
In one of the final lines from Klepheis' reports, he writes, I wish every member of the 187 ARCT and every American could have listened in to hear how a brave man dies.
Hammond's nephew Brad Richmiller says, "I've read that several times and anytime I get depressed I go back and read it. Makes you feel good someone in your family did good."
Lester's Medal of Honor, which was awarded a year after his death, is now displayed at the All Wars Museum at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy.
Richmiller says, "It's a simple looking medal, it's the memory that goes with it and what he did to earn it."
When Lester's body was returned from Korea, it was buried in Greenmount Cemetery. But in 1983, his casket was moved to Sunset Cemetery at the Vets Home.
"Our family was extremely proud of what he accomplished in a short time."
The Quincy chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association bears the name of Lester Hammond, Junior. A lasting tribute to a fellow soldier who died a hero.
Lester's name also lives on outside of Quincy.
There's a building named for him at Fort Campbell Kentucky and a ball field honors him in Seoul, South Korea.