DANVILLE — John Hammond doesn’t mind that his military service record is not long and full of forays and battles. He was drafted in 1967, he served, and he came home. And, he noted, he didn’t flee to Canada; he found another organization to serve.
Hammond followed in his late father’s footsteps. His father, Dale Hammond, owned and operated Dale’s Cardinal Market in Danville. His wife and their five children worked at the store. Now, John and three of his siblings, operate the market.
His father also served as fire chief for the Danville Volunteer Fire Department for 35 years. The department is now part of the Eastern Knox County Joint Fire District. Hammond served on the fire department after he completed his military service; and though he retired from the department in 2009, he still listens to a pager. His nephew is now the fire chief.
Hammond graduated from Danville High School in 1966 and was drafted into the US Army in October of 1967.
“I don’t think any of us wanted to go,” he said, “but if you’re drafted, you go.” Three other Danville boys were also drafted and they left from the recruiters office in the basement of the Mount Vernon Post Office at 6 a.m. one morning in October.
At Mount Vernon they joined other draftees and were bussed to Fort Hayes in Columbus and with more draftees, they flew to North Carolina and picked up more men. Together, they all flew to Fort Benning, Ga. At Fort Benning they went through boot camp acquiring physical conditioning as well as firearms, first aid and chemical warfare training.
From Fort Benning, Hammond was sent to Fort Eustis, the home of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps. At Fort Eustis he received three months of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in air frame repair. Hammond was trained to repair the “skin” of the Army air corps’ planes and helicopters.
“It was fun,” he said, “I was in a good class.” He still keeps in touch with some men he served with.
Upon completion of his AIT training, he returned to Fort Benning and the 181st Aviation Company. He described it as a “holding unit” for troops going to and returning from Vietnam.
One of the most exciting event of Hammond’s service actually happened stateside. While he was at Fort Benning, John Wayne arrived with his production company for the filming of “The Green Berets.” The army provided several helicopters and light transport, as well as uniforms, for the movie. The Air Force supplied two C-130s.
“Those were our planes in the movie,” Hammond stated, “and a lot of helicopter pilots and crew chiefs were in the movie.” He wasn’t in the movie, but he was able to watch production.
“At the time the military was training Navy pilots and crews. They scored their marksmanship when we set up 10-foot-by-10-foot targets and a microphone was place in front of them to count the shock waves. A man in the tower counted the rounds.
By Christmas, Hammond was sure he wasn’t going to Vietnam because he only had seven months left of his obligation. But when he returned from Christmas leave, his sergeant told him his orders were cut.
On March 1, 1968, he arrived at Qui Nhon, Vietnam. At the airfield he patched bullet holes and replaced windshields. There was a hospital on the base and his unit also made air conditioning ducts for the hospital.
“The only time we went out in the field was at a place we went to fix helicopters,” he said.
They lived in “hootches” that were long buildings with a central hall and rooms one either side. Four men lived in a room.
He noted, “Right outside our hootch was a club where we could get a drink after work.”
His commanding officer wanted him to take the test for an E-5 but he recommended someone else because he didn’t want to extend his service.
When he returned to the states they flew him in to Oakland, Calif., because of fog.
He was told, “Down at the canteen they have a free steak dinner for you.” He replied, “Oh no, I’m going home. My dad has a grocery store and I can get a steak there.”
“It was a good thing I didn’t take the dinner,” he added, “I got to the airport and in 15 minutes my flight was leaving.” His parents picked him up in Columbus.
In October of 1968 he met his wife Sue (Harding) on the square in Danville. She was from Gambier but was in Danville visiting cousins and a friend introduced them.
Hammond said it was love at first sight and they married in February 1969. They have three daughters: Leslie, Christina, and Amber. Amber works at the store. He also has four grandchildren.
When Hammond returned to Danville, he signed on as a volunteer firefighter and he drove truck locally for four years. He loved driving truck but quit and asked his father if he could work at the store. By then he had young daughters and he got up to drive before they got up and they were in bed by the time he got home. He wanted to watch the girls grow up.
Hammond now runs the grocery department at Dale’s Cardinal Market. His sister, Kay, oversees the cashiers and freezer department, as well as the bills. His brothers Mike and Scott takes care of the accounting and the meat shop.
And service is still important to Hammond. “If we don’t have it, I’ll get it for you,” he said. That’s service the customers can appreciate.
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