John C. Hammat Jr.
Army Private John C. Hammat Jr., known as “Jack” to his family, was born in Huntington, West Virginia, on October 31, 1913, to John C. and Hazel Ogdin Hammat. Jack grew up in a family with two brothers (George Ogdin and Joseph Paul) and four sisters (Julia E., Harriett H., Rachel R., and Grace E.). Prior to raising this brood, John C. Sr. and Hazel had another son, Edward Noah, who died in infancy. The Hammat family moved frequently during John’s and Hazel’s marriage, living at various times in Colorado; Wood County, West Virginia; Caldwell and Marietta, Ohio; and ultimately ending up in Indiana.
Jack’s sister, Grace Hammat Curfman, recalled in an interview that growing up in a large family made for many happy memories. Grace was one of the youngest siblings, while Jack was one of the oldest. As often happens in families where the children are spaced over a long period of time, the Hammats “paired off.” Jack and his sister Julia became great pals, while Grace recalls being paired off with Joe. In fact, family legend has it that the Hammats held elder sister Julia back and enrolled Jack early so the two could start school together. Grace referred to Jack as a “wonderful brother, very special” and called him “the rock of our family.” She noted that he was “very good to his mother.” Despite Jack’s serious inclinations, Mrs. Curfman described him as “happy-go-lucky” with “a great sense of humor,” stating, “Everybody loved Jack.”
|One of the youngest members of his class at Marietta High School, Jack was a good student and was elected president of his 1930 graduating class. He later attended Ohio University at Athens, Ohio. He was married to Flora Hathaway Hammat, and they had a son, John David, born in 1940.|
|Prior to his enlistment, Pvt. Hammat was an automobile salesman in Caldwell, Ohio. However, he was living in Canton, Stark County, Ohio, and working as a foreman at the Hercules Motor Corporation when he registered for the Army in October 1943 at Columbus. (Hercules was at one time the world’s largest producer of internal combustion engines for jeeps, trucks, and other motorized equipment. During World War II, the company devoted 100 percent of its production to war needs, employing 5,800 men and women working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.(Source: Hercules Power Products, "History of Hercules Engine Company," http://www.herculesengine.com/history.htm) Employed in a vital war supply industry, he was eligible for a deferment, but that was not a route Jack would take. He received his Army training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, and was sent overseas in April 1944. His volunteering meant that all the Hammat men were now serving their country; George was a tech sergeant stationed in India, while the youngest brother, Joe, had joined the Navy and was serving in Africa.|
Because of Jack’s carefully crafted letters to his sister Rachel (married to Forest Joy and living in New York in 1944; the Joys would later end up in Williamstown) and her diligence in collecting and saving them, we are afforded a rich insight into the life of American soldiers in England as they await the invasion of the continent. Writing letters and receiving mail was an important part of the soldier’s life, and Jack notes that it takes about three weeks for letters from the states to get to him, while his get back to his wife Flora in about a week. In an early V-mail dated April 22, he tells Rachel of his amazement at the beauty of the English countryside and laments that he has yet to go into town or “see any of the natives.” He brings up the unpredictability of his situation: “I don’t know where I go from here and hardly know where I am now as things change suddenly without notice.” Some letters show the extent to which the censors went to avoid noting the places from which the soldiers were writing. Any mention of place names was literally scissored out of the letter. In one, Jack asks Rachel to send gum, candy, and cigars, but not cigarettes, because they are in good supply and cheap. He requests a Ronson cigarette lighter, and then apologizes for “begging.” In another, he asks for stationery, explaining it is hard to come by. The sense of humor that Grace Curfman refers to emerges in his observations of the “natives,” but it is offset by the seriousness of the business at hand, as when he attends church outdoors on a hill, his trusty rifle by his side.
In a V-mail dated June 25, 1944—nineteen days after the Normandy invasion, Pvt. Hammat writes to his “Sis” from France:
As you can see I have changed my address again and am now attached to an outfit that has seen plenty of action. Things are hotter around these parts than a little red wagon and probably will stay that way for awhile. I am digging and sleeping in nice deep fox holes and you can quote me as saying that the old mother earth is a soldier’s best friend. Things are going our way now, but this country is hell to fight in as every small field is bound on all sides by hedge rows and it is almost like jungle fighting. I travel very light with all my personal effects in my pockets. Sleeping out with only a rain coat for a cover is pretty rugged without all the noise. However the good Lord is looking out for me so I am all right. Sure hope to see you again as I’ve seen enough of these foreign countries to last me a lifetime. Give Joy my regards, so till you hear from me again,
I am your gopher brother,
He was serving in the Third Army in France under General Patton when he was wounded on July 12, 1944. Initially hospitalized in France, he was transferred to a hospital in England. His letters to Rachel remained upbeat, and he appeared to be on his way to recovery despite severe injuries. On July 29, he writes:
Don’t pay any attention to the shaky writing in this letter as it is being written under unusual circumstances. I am in the prone position in a hospitial [sic] bed here in England. . . . Yes I caught one on July 12 in Normandy. It broke my left thigh and severely wounded the left hip. Also got a small one in the right calf. However I am doing all right and getting the best of care. Don’t worry about me. I met Major Webster here. He was a dentist in Caldwell [Ohio]. He has taken care of me like a long lost brother and believe me it sure is nice to see someone you know when you are so far away. . . . Oh yes I now have a fancy Purple Heart.
|For more than two months Jack made satisfactory progress toward recovery as the family made plans for his return to the states. His continued optimism shines through in a letter in which he hints to Rachel that he might be transferred to a New York hospital, and he hopes she will be able to visit him. Sadly, though, in late September he contracted acute hepatitis in the hospital where he was recuperating and became critically ill. In a letter to Ohio Congressman P. W. Griffiths, Brigadier General Robert Dunlop wrote: “This complication rapidly proved fatal despite every effort by the medical authorities to save his life.” Pvt. Hammat was originally buried in Cambridge, England, but in 1948, at the request of his family and with further intervention from Congressman Griffiths, his remains were transferred to the U.S., where he was interred in Eastlawn Cemetery in Ohio.|
Information and pictures contributed by John C. Hammat Jr.’s son John David Hammat and his wife Vivian and his sister Grace Hammat Curfman. Article by Patricia Richards McClure.
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history. For more information contact Constance Baston at (304) 558-0230.
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