Seckenheim is a small town located on the B37 and off Autobahn A656 between Mannheim and Heidelberg.
When completed in 1937, the new Kaserne in Heidelberg became the home of the 110th infantry Regiment's headquarters, its 1st Battalion, and its two regimental support companies. The regiment's 2d Battalion was stationed at Loretto-Kaserne (Hammonds Barracks) in Seckenheim, and the 3d Battalion at Grenadier-Kaseme (Patton Barracks).
On 23 August 1948, Headquarters, European Command issued General Order Number 78, renaming eight installations in the Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, and Mannheim regions in honor of soldiers who had been killed or mortally wounded while performing acts of heroism in the area, and for which they later received decorations for valor. Remarkably, all but one of those men were soldiers of the 100th Infantry Division.
One of the eight installations, Loretto Kaserne in Seckenheim, Germany, was officially renamed and dedicated as Hammonds Barracks in honor of PFC Hammonds in 1948. One of these Centurymen was Private First Class Robert M. Hammonds. Hammonds, a 19-year old native of Wickliffe, Kentucky, was a wireman with Company G, 397th Infantry Regiment. On 11 April 1945, near Heilbronn, PFC Hammonds courageously volunteered and unhesitatingly exposed himself to hostile fire to complete installation of a wire line. He had just completed his task when he was mortally wounded by a sniper's bullet. For this act of valor, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. Major General Withers A. Burress, Commanding General of the 100th Infantry Division, sent a letter to PFC Hammond's mother expressing his sympathies for her loss. In his letter, General Burress promised Mrs. Hammonds that her son's "devotion to duty and his courage will not be forgotten, and will serve to inspire us to better efforts."
Aside from the official action authorized by General Order Number 78, however, until recently there was no record of any other formal dedication of Hammonds Barracks. There was no historical marker or any other type of visible official record at the installation to reflect after whom it is named and why. To provide an appropriate and permanent tribute to PFC Hammonds, Hammonds Barracks was rededicated at a ceremony which unveiled a bronze plaque mounted on a pedestal adjacent to the flagpoles and parade field, explaining the actions of PFC Hammonds.
It was just a name on a sign along the road - Hammonds Barracks - pointing the way to a small Army post near Seckenheim. But a small but moving ceremony 23 June 2000 brought back to life the memory of a 19-year-old Pfc. from Kentucky did what needed to be done 55 years ago, and lost his life doing it. In that ceremony, attended by members of his family and fellow wartime members of the 100th Infantry Div., Hammonds Barracks was rededicated to the memory of Pfc. Robert M. Hammonds.
A wireman with Co. G, 1st Bn., 397th Infantry regiment, Hammonds volunteered to reconnect a field telephone line that had been cut by an explosion during house-to-house fighting near Heilbronn on April 11, 1945. "All the others (members of his section) were married, with children, and he was single, so he volunteered," said Dr. William S. Glazier at the rededication ceremony. Glazier, a former fellow infantryman, is now the chaplain of the 100th Infantry Division Association, and was the one who located Hammond's relatives so they could attend.
Hammonds left cover, made the repair, and then was mortally wounded by a sniper. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for valor, for his sacrifice that day.
In 1948, the former German Loretto Kaserne was renamed Hammonds Barracks in his honor. It was one eight U.S. Army installations in the Heidelberg, Karlsruhe and Mannheim region that were simultaneously renamed after soldiers who had been killed in the area in March and April 1945 and posthumously recognized for their valor. Although his mother received a letter from the Army informing her of the renaming, and a photo of a wooden sign commemorating her son that stood on the installation, there is no record of a formal dedication ceremony, and the sign disappeared years ago.
That's how things stood until a meeting in September 1999 between Col. Donald R. Yates, commander of U.S. Army Contracting Comd., Europe and also the senior commander on the post, and his plans officer, Maj. Jaimy Rand. The subject was the renovation of the German employees' kantine. A contest to rename the cafeteria resulted in the selection of "Hammonds Canteen," and Yates became interested in Hammonds himself. "He wanted to know who this soldier was the casern was named after, and what had he done (to be so honored)," said Rand, who was the project officer for the kantine renovation. Yates wanted to see Hammonds' sacrifice properly commemorated in a permanent fashion, and he wanted it done in a ceremony of rededication, if possible, involving veterans of the 100th Div. and Hammonds' family.
Rand's search led to the division veterans' association Web site and its president, Hank Williams. She found herself inundated with responses from veterans, some in Germany and other in the United States. One of them was the reverend Glazier. "One day I got an e-mail from him that said 'I've found the Hammonds family'," said Rand. Glazier, who would accompany Hammonds' relatives to Germany for the ceremony, said he worked through the town clerk of Wickliffe, Ky., where Hammonds had been raised and where his body was finally laid to rest. He was able to locate a brother, Billy W. Hammonds, and a sister, Johnnie S. Downs, who had moved to Sand Springs, Okla., a small town near Tulsa.
With the support of Hq., 26th Area Support Group and a number of private organizations, Hammonds and Downs and Downs' daughter, Theresa G. Wheeler, were flown to Germany, arriving June 20. The following day, they went to Heilbronn, and were given a tour by local amateur historian Günter Beck of the area near where the 100th Div. crossed the Neckar River and of the general area where it is believed that Hammonds was killed.
They were accompanied by three escort officers from USACCE, by Glazier, and by three veterans of the 100th Div. who now live in Europe. They were Dr. William D. Warren, honorary consul of Luxembourg in Liechtenstein; Mario Forgione, who lives in Hof, Germany and Allen Fuehrer, who lives in Brussels, Belgium. Also with the group was French historian Lise Pommois, who has written about the U.S. military campaign in her native Vosges mountains, in which the 100th Div. participated.
After 55 years and the massive reconstruction of Germany, however, the veterans found it hard to recognize anything of the shattered Heilbronn they remembered from 1945, said Regina Abrigo of the 26th ASG public affairs office, who translated for the group. The group, which also included Glazier's, Forgione's and Fuehrer's wives, later got a tour of the city.
The family presented the photo, Hammonds' burial flag, his Silver Star and Purple Heart medals and other personal items to Jordan so that they might be displayed at Hammonds Barracks. The event counted among its sponsors and helpers the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Abrams Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, the Heidelberg Chapter, Warrant Officers Association, the Heidelberg Commissary, the Mannheim United Service Organizations and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
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