FORT MILL — Richard Hutchinson is the Last Man Standing. “Sarge,” who turns 100 in November, is it.
Nobody has ever had the guts to call him old, though.
“I’m no hero” said Hutchinson. “We were just soldiers. Trained soldiers.”
Fort Mill soldiers were never “just soldiers,” though.
If tough guys such as Sarge Hutchinson had not volunteered to go off to war, had they not trained Allied troops for combat, the Nazis who slaughtered and persecuted millions more might have won the war.
There are no more living members from Fort Mill’s “Old Hickory” National Guard unit, which fought in both World Wars. The rest are dead. The rest saved the world. Fort Mill sent its boys to World War I and World War II – more than 200 of them from a place where only a couple thousand people lived.
This unit comprised of soldiers from Fort Mill and a few other places produced two recipients of the Medal of Honor – the highest award for valor in action against an enemy that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the U.S. armed forces.
When Henry Hammond died at 91 last month, that left Hutchinson as the last surviving member of the unit, said William Whitley, who has studied the history of the group.
Hutchinson will be the man of honor Sunday at the historic Flint Hill Memorial Association’s 123rd straight service honoring veterans of all wars back to the Civil War. That cemetery behind Flint Hill Baptist Church in Fort Mill and two smaller cemeteries nearby hold more than 300 of the toughest men to fight in all those wars.
Hutchinson can’t get around too well anymore, and he hears little. But he was not always old. He was the master sergeant, the first sergeant, the boss non-commissioned officer for this toughest of all tough units.
Re-organization after World War II changed the unit’s name and mission, said Murray White, the former York County Councilman who was company commander for the unit after it became H Company of the 218th Brigade.
“The unit during those two wars was part of the 30th Infantry Division, 118th Infantry Regiment,” White said. “Company K. They had a long and distinguished history. A history of years and blood. Tough men. The best.”
Tom Hall Street in Fort Mill is named for one of those Medal of Honor winners from Fort Mill who earned his eternal name in death in battle in France. Other streets in Fort Mill – Morgan, Lee, Clebourne, Howington, Sidney Johnson and more – also are named for Old Hickory soldiers, Whitley said.
Sarge Hutchinson was as tough as any of them.
“He was raised in the Depression,” said his son, Rick Hutchinson. “Tough.”
The Old Hickory unit mobilized in 1940 and went to Iceland, where it trained troops. Then it was assigned to England, France and Germany. But before reaching Europe, the ship carrying them was torpedoed.
Finally, the Fort Mill men arrived on the beaches of Normandy on June 9, 1944 – just three days after the massive D-Day invasion. This unit of mill hill and farm kids showed steel in war.
Of his World War II service, Sarge Hutchinson said: “Left in 1940, February, got back in October of 1945.”
And this guy claims he is no hero.
Hutchinson has lived in the same house since 1947. Old habits die hard for the old sergeant. There is no mistake in his handshake. After 99 years, it is still made of iron.
When hundreds of people gather for the annual event honoring veterans Sunday, nobody will call Hutchinson “Richard.” No soldier has ever had the guts to use his first name, said Whitley.
He will be called “Top” for top sergeant. Or “First sergeant,” because that’s what he was.
Some may make the mistake of calling him “sir.”
Master Sgt. Richard Hutchinson can’t talk like he used to or walk like he used to, but he will remind anybody he was a non-commissioned officer. Not an officer who had stars, or birds or bars on their collars. Not a “sir.” A tough guy who led enlisted men.
A sergeant, from the Old Hickory unit – the last man standing.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org