In April 1919, a group of 15 young Kingsport men, just home from serving in the U.S. military, met in Kingsport attorney George A. Caldwell’s office and began the organization of what was to become American Legion Hammond Post #3. Chartered on July 9, 1919, Hammond Post #3 held its first meeting in a tailor shop in back of Clinchfield Drug. It is named for Sgt. Hagan Hammond of Kingsport, “the first Sullivan County boy to give his life for his country in the greatest of the world’s wars.”
According to news reports at the time:
Hammond “unselfishly gave his life near Estrees, France, Oct. 6, 1918, while voluntarily aiding two soldiers to repair a signal line.” He was a son of Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Hammond, of Kingsport, and was born “at Kingsport, Va. in 1896,” and had lived here (Kingsport) for 16 years prior to his enlistment in the Army on August 5, 1917. Hammond served in different camps stateside before deploying to France. He was a member of the Headquarters Company of the 117th Infantry, which engaged in battles at Bellicourt, Navvoy, Estrees, Morvets and Busigny, during which the outfit helped break the Hindenburg Line.
Hammond and his company spent the day he died near Estrees during the great Meuse-Argonne offensive, with the village under heavy shell fire all day. But at nightfall the shelling let up noticeably, and Hammond and several members of his platoon headed toward the village, intending to spend the night in dugouts there. On the way, however, Hammond saw two of his men repairing a signal line and stopped to help. Soon a shell fell in their midst, killing Hammond instantly.
Hammond’s commanding officer wrote: “He was one of the best signal men we had. He was fearless and courageous and he died nobly, for he was not obliged to help repair the line, but did so out of kindness and zeal in the service.”
According to a framed letter displayed at Hammond Post #3’s headquarters, at least one of Hammond’s fellow soldiers thought Hammond experienced a premonition he would die before returning home.
The man wrote that Hammond had been terribly seasick on the voyage from the U.S. to Europe and had said he dreaded the return crossing — and would walk the distance instead if there were a bridge.
“Later,” the letter reads, “he apparently had a premonition that he would not be going home, for he said the thought of the ocean and the waves didn’t bother him anymore, for he believed he wouldn’t live through the war.”
Prior to the naming of the American Legion post in his honor, the city of Kingsport named Hammond Avenue after him. Hammond Memorial Bridge would follow roughly a decade later.
Hammond initially was buried in France. But his remains, along with those of another local soldier, were later returned to Kingsport for burial at the cemetery “at Lovedale.”
To be continued Sunday, August 25.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]