Deerfield Beach – Around here, Eddie Hammond, 93, has become the poster boy for Pearl Harbor survivors. As an 18-year-old Navy submarine machinist, Hammond witnessed the infamous attack from the sub base. He ran outside and shot at the warplanes streaming overhead until he was pulled back inside by a superior officer and chided for his foolishness.
“I was too young to be afraid,” he recalls. “I was a member of the diaper cruise.” He had joined the Navy with his parent’s permission at age 17.
The attack on Pearl Harbor is Hammond’s most poignant war memory. “We lost 2,400 people. I lost half of my unit,” he says. He remained at Pearl Harbor about two years, but the war continued and he logged other important memories. He was stationed for a year on Midway and in on the battle of Saipan and later at the invasion of Okinawa.
For his service, Hammond who lives in Crystal Lake, has received many honors and each year represents veterans at Pearl Harbor remembrances. Wednesday, December 7 is the 75th anniversary of the attack and observances will be held across Broward County.
Hammond will be the special guest and only Pearl Harbor survivor at the Broward Navy Days ceremony Sunday, Dec. 4, 2 p.m. at the Coast Guard Station at John U. Lloyd Park.
On Wednesday, at 11 a.m. members of American Legion Post 162 will throw a wreath in the water off of Deerfield’s fishing pier commemorating the 75th anniversary. Hammond, a devoted member of the post, will be there also.
There once was an organization for the survivors of Pearl Harbor – Hammond knew 87 of them- but with their numbers dwindling the group has disbanded.
“There are other survivors,” he said this week. “But none that I know of around here.”
When the war was over, Hammond returned to his native Ohio. About 30 years ago, he came to Deerfield Beach with his wife and continued working at his trade, repairing printing presses. His wife died four years ago.
Now he lives alone with the help of his daughter Colleen Harris, a resident of Century Village East, and Legion members who visit him frequently. He is a constant presence at the local post where he is somewhat of a star.
Several years ago he was awarded, along with a dozen others,” Hometown Hero” status at the post. He is also active in Disabled American Veterans organization. Up until a decade ago, he was a volunteer at the Cleveland Clinic.
“His mind is alert,” said Harris, “but he has the problems of age. He is legally blind, hard of hearing and his legs are bad. Everything is hard . . . But he is so cute with his off-key jokes and sharp mind.”
According to Harris, Hammond refuses to live in Century Village. “He says the people here are too old.”
Hammond never returned to Pearl Harbor. Twice he planned to go, and twice he changed his mind. “When you put something to sleep, you let it sleep,” he says of that terrible day.
Harris says her father has trouble talking about it.
And re-enforcing that point, Hammond himself said to this reporter, “no embellishing, please.”