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Wednesday, March 25, 1987 VIRGINIA STAR

A Doughboy's Story

     In Scott County at the turn of the century many a young farmer's son was a farmer sure to be. So it was with Roy Bicom Hammond, son of Anderson Hammond, who worked the fields of his grandparents in Bellamy when the United States declared war on Germany.

     Soon enough, he would learn of other fields and of more grisly harvests. He was inducted into service on Nov. 3, 1917 at Gate City as a private in the infantry' section of the National Army, HQ company, 317 regiment, 80th division, serial number 1816403.

     Clearly Hammond was well read on events in Europe, and held strong negative opinions of Germany from the onset of his service. In 1920, he recalled his attitude toward military service at the time of his induction: "I believe in the safeguard of our nation which was at stake when the barbarous, blood-thirsty Huns started their devilish work."

     Hammonds was sent to Camp Lee, Va. for his training which would last from Nov. 4, 1917 to May 26, 1918. Judging by the vast recorded numbers of American soldiers who died of influenza, pneumonia and any number of diseases before ever leaving the country, Training Camp was undoubtedly the first enemy a doughboy had to face. It was an encounter which would not leave Hammond unscathed. Although he remained unaware of it until after the war tuberculosis was his first war wound and most dreaded enemy.

     After training, he embarked from Norfolk on the S.S. Mongolia and arrived at Brest, France on June 8, 1918. For two months he trained and traveled to such places as Calais, Bois De Sperche, Daudaville and Paris. Apparently Hammond enjoyed his experiences during this period and developed a liking and respect for his host nation which he did not feel all his American comrades shared.

Pvt. Roy B. Hammonds

    "In regard to the French people some of the boys seemed to expect the French to turn everything over to them," he wrote. "They grumbled at the high prices when they themselves were mostly to blame. The Yanks are to free with money. Allowances should be made for the three years strenuous war the French had endured. Give them credit; they deserve it."

     On August 8, 1918, the honeymoon was over. He reported with the 317th to the trenches of the Artois section, whereupon he began to develop, in his own words, "a vivid idea of war --- the hardships being 100% greater than I imagined." He would see three months of active service during which time the Germans tried desperately to insure that inexperienced, battle-green Americans would not live to be wary, experienced adversaries.

    Between Aug. 8 and Nov. 6, 1918 he saw plenty of his comrades fall, prey to German hopes. Yet the most hair-raising episode he recalled occurred during the famed Muse Argonne offensive.

     "On the morning of Oct. 4, 1918 near Nautilailles after a bombardment by our artillery, the boys of the 317th Infantry counterattacked the Germans in the region of the Argonne Woods. That evening Jerry returned our very effective bombardment. His machine guns were numerous and cross firing on us, making death almost certain to advance any farther. We dug in till Jerry could be somewhat silenced by our heavy artillery which was ordered to that sector at once.

     "While the artillery was on its way, Jerry kept up his machine gun fire assisted by several different calibers of his deathly artillery. He had almost direct observation. Men were falling on every hand, pierced by those deadly machine gun bullets and that awful shrapnel. Jerrie's shells got so close that we were forced to move or be blown to pieces; but still the machine gun bullets were playing all kinds of tunes over our heads.

     "Nonetheless we waded through the machine gun fire in search of better shelter. Just as I was passing a rock wall one of Jerrie's guns was turned loose full speed on me. Just in front of me not more than waist high on the wall the machine gun bullets were seemingly tearing the soft rock (chalk) all to pieces -- I never checked, but passed right through the heavy machine gun fire without a scratch. I don't know how I possibly escaped. A close call, don't you think?"

     And yet, while Hammond managed to evade that hot rain of bullets, he could not completely evade the lung-burning Thunderhead of poison gas. He was not overwhelmed, but he received enough to make his lungs more vulnerable to the infection which had incubated within him since his days at Camp Lee.

     When he arrived at Newport News on June 1, 1919, he arrived with "a higher esteem of (his) own country," he wrote. His opinion of the foe was unchanged, if not worsened; he remained "deeply impressed that 'Germany' should have been blown off the map."

     On July 4, 1919, he married Edna Bostic of Clinchport, and settled down to farming in Bellamy once again. Six months after his discharge date, he clearly began to develop pulmonary trouble. His daughter, Geneva Alice, was born on April 2, 1920. His lung condition worsened and by fourteen months past his discharge date, he was diagnosed as haing tuberculosis "traceable to service."

     On Sept. 18, 1920 he filled out a State of Virginia War History Commission Military Service Record, the document which is the historical basis for this story.

     Within two years of that date, he was dead.

 

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