Because his high school sweetheart jilted him Tommy Hammond of Shell Creek mobile home park, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. decided to join the Seabees. He was 17, the date was 1950– the year the Korean War started.
“I wanted to be a heavy equipment operator, that’s why I wanted to be in the Seabees. I went down to the recruiter in Flint, Mich., where I grew up, at noon and found no one there but the Air Force recruiter. He told me the Air Force would take right good care of me, so I signed up.”
After basic at Samson Air Force Base in New York State he went to Bryan, Texas and a base where fighter pilots were trained. He began as a refueler.
That girl back home who brushed him off had a change of heart. He was 17 and she was 18, at the time, when they got hitched.
“I bought her wedding ring in the PX. In those days you had to get permission from your base commander to get married. After listening to a 30 minute speech from my commander about only being 17 and getting married was a bad idea I went home on leave and Jewel and I got married.
“We were on our honeymoon and a couple of days later my father came knocking on our door. He had a telegram from the Department of Defense that said I had to be at an air force base in San Francisco immediately if not sooner for shipment overseas. Four days later I was sent to Korea for the next 18 months without my new wife,” the 79-year-old recalled more than half a century later.
“I went to Osan Air Force Base (K-55) in Korea and worked as a refueler. It was there I made buck sergeant,” Hammond said. “Eight months into that tour a Marine Corps Corsair fighter plane that was all shot up came in for a landing. The pilot got out of his plane and said, ‘Fuel me up. I’m going back to my base.’
“It turned out the pilot was Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox. I was speechless.”
After his tour in Korea, Hammond returned to the States and was assigned to Grand View Air Force Base in Kansas City, Mo.
“While checking in at my new base the sergeant asked me what I did. When he found out I could drive heavy equipment he told me, ‘I need you right away.’
“I took a rig and went out to a corn field to retrieve a airplane that had crashed. A colonel was killed when he crashed his plane while coming in for a landing.”
After a couple of years at Grand View he was reassigned to Korea once more. He became part of the 6314 Transportation Squadron.
“I got hooked up with a trucking and transportation outfit that went all over Korea providing all kinds of trucking service for the military,” he said. Eight months later my wife sent me a traffic ticket I hadn’t paid the Kansas City Police Department. It noted that if I didn’t pay this ticket immediately I was to be put in jail.
“I wrote the city back and said, ‘I’m over here in Korea fighting the war for you.’ The Vietnam War was going strong. I added, ‘If you want to arrest me come get me.’
“A couple of months later I got a letter from the mayor of Kansas City who wrote: ‘I’m really sorry about the ticket, son. If you ever get back to Kansas City you come to my office and we’ll go out to dinner. And you be sure and bring your wife.’
“In 1966 the Air Force wanted to start a similar trucking operation in the Philippines. They wanted me to come there and help head up the new trucking outfit,” he said.
“Our main mission was to haul cargo from the U.S. Steamship Lines to places all over the Philippines. We hauled for any branch of the service. Much of what we hauled was frozen food,” Hammond recalled. “We had to complete the transfer of frozen food to a huge food locker in Manila that was 300 feet square within 24 hours or pay a charge of $50,000 an hour until the ship was unloaded. As long as I was running the operation we never paid the extra charge.”
After he had completed his tour in the Philippines and he was working at Edwards Air Force Base in California he received the Air Force Commendation Medal for the supply worked he did in the islands.
“It was a big honor,” Hammond recalled 45 years later.
At Edwards he ran the driver’s school at the base. It was his job to train people how to run any kind of equipment the Air Force had.
He wasn’t there long when a C-5A, the largest transport plane in the world at the time, flew into the base.
“The C-5A landed on the lake bed at Edwards with a load of railroad iron. They stopped the airplane on the sand by reversing its engines and sucking sand into the engines,” Hammond said. “Lockheed, the plane’s manufacturer, wanted to see how sand would affect the transport’s operation.”
He was sent to where the C-5A was with a crane to removed all four of its engines and replace them with new ones. They took the engines they had flown in on back to the shop and spent the next three evenings removing the sand and rebuilding the motors.”
After five years at Edwards, his next tour was Germany and he got to bring his wife and three children this time.
“I ended up in Semback Air Force Base in Germany. Again I was in charge of the driver’s training operation at the base. While there I bought a brand new VW camper through the PX for $2,200. My family and I spent our off time in the early 70s touring Europe on the weekends in our camper.
“On Christmas Eve 1972 I got orders to move back to the States. We were sent to Wortsmith Air Force Base in Acosta, Mich. It was a Strategic Air Command base. I didn’t like it.
“I was over weight and Gen. (Curtis) LeMay, commander of SAC, didn’t like anybody who was over weight, except himself. I got tired of being hounded by SAC people about my weight, so I decided to quit the Air Force after 24 years of service,” he said.
He was 41 when he retired from the Air Force in 1974.
For the first few years out of the service Hammond bought his own truck and worked for Dow Chemical at its headquarters in Midland, Mich. hauling sand for a giant new building the firm was constructing.
When times got rough in the early 1980s when the interest rate went out of sight, he sold his trucking business and signed up with Dow as a freelance trucker working for the firm.
After Dow, he worked as a crane operator for an electrical contractor in Midland for several more years before retiring for good and moving to Florida in 1997. The Hammonds have lived in Shell Creek for almost 20 years.
They have three children: James, Ray and Susan.
Name: Tommy Hammond
D.O.B: 9 Sept. 1934
Hometown: Lancing, Mich.
Currently: Shell Creek mobile home park Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 1950
Unit: 6314 Transportation Battalion, “The 2nd Muel Train, Koprea
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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