MEMORIAL DAY STIRS MEMORIES

May 27, 2001 11:00 pm
LOOKING BACK: World War II veteran John Hammel looks at an old photo of himself with fellow soldiers during boot camp. Hammel was stationed in Australia during the war. (The Observer/ERIN PHILLIPS).
LOOKING BACK: World War II veteran John Hammel looks at an old photo of himself with fellow soldiers during boot camp. Hammel was stationed in Australia during the war. (The Observer/ERIN PHILLIPS).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

American soldiers stationed in Australia during World War II encountered resentment and the warmest of hospitality.

John Hammel of La Grande knows this better than most.

Hammel was a U.S. Marine lieutenant stationed on the coast of Australia for a portion of World War II. Hammel and other Marines were there to help protect Australia from a possible German attack.

Most Australian citizens welcomed the American troops.

They treated us like kings, Hammel said. It was like the old saying, If you wanted it you got it.

Australian soldiers, many of whom had been sent to Europe to help Great Britain, resented their presence of the Americans, Hammel said. They feared that the American soldiers would steal their girlfriends.

Their soldiers didnt like us, Hammel said.

Hammel, 95, never saw any German ships or submarines approach Australia.

Hammel spent much of World War II at sea aboard the Mississippi, a battleship. Hammel and his fellow Marines were there to protect the ship. The men never encountered any enemy fire and Hammel does not believe this was purely due to good fortune. He explained that the Mississippi traveled with heavily armed fleet that probably intimidated the Japanese and the Germans.

We would have outgunned anyone, Hammel said.

The former Marine speaks in awe of the weaponry the Mississippi had.

We had guns which could fire shells that went 35 miles. I couldnt believe it, Hammel said.

If those guns inspired awe the weapons of today provoke greater disbelief.

Today they shoot shells which go around the world, Hammel said.

He saw the country by rail

Long before World War II broke out John Hammel didnt go around the world but he did go across much of the United States by train. Hammel rode freight trains across the United States as a hobo.

We never got kicked off. It was fun, Hammel said.

Many of the freight cars he rode in had about half a dozen other hobos.

Hammel, who has born in Kentucky on Sept. 27, 1905, first stepped foot in La Grande in 1925 after riding a freight train from Indiana.

I stayed in a hotel room for about 50 cents. All it had a was a cot and a blanket, Hammel said.

He had come west with a dream of becoming a cowboy. Hammel fulfilled his dream later when ran a cattle ranch near Lakeview in Lake County. Hammel also supported himself as an entertainer, giving song and dance performances throughout the West.