By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
As Ivan Hammond sits in his easy chair, copies of “Leatherneck: Magazine of the Marines” are within an arm’s reach. “Once a Marine always a Marine” he shared quietly. At age 98 Hammond continues to embody the vigor, zeal, and disposition of a United States Marine.
In Louisiana, the son of a farmer, Ivan learned that hard work and hard play were part of life. His first red wagon was a Christmas gift, and he and his mother used it to haul 40- and 50-pound sacks of rice and beans and potatoes.
He, his dad and his half-brother, Fletcher, would fish together. When Ivan was eight, he received a .22- caliber bolt-action rifle for Christmas. Young Ivan hunted squirrels and rabbits. If between them and their skills, they didn’t catch enough protein, then they’d buy beef from a peddler in an old Ford car.
By age 12 Ivan had a keen interest in radios and was fixing to become an amateur radio operator. However, achieving that would require a financial investment that his family did not have. Nonetheless, he continued to tinker with radios and develop his knowledge of them and electric currents.
In high school he read about the US Marines fighting in Belleau Woods France.
“That inspired my dad to want to be a Marine,” explained his daughter Lynn.
Ivan graduated from high school at age 16 in Morrow, Louisiana. Young men back then graduated high school as soon as possible so they could get ready to start their military training and head off to serve in World War ll.
Military training for Ivan started at the Army Signal Corps Radio School in San Antonio. There he constructed radios and transmitters. While completing phase three of the program, he was also enrolled in math and theory at the University of Texas.
Since he did not enlist in the Army Signal Corps Reserve, he was booted out of the program when he turned 18, and he headed for Houston.
Rather than wait to be drafted, Ivan found a military recruiting station and asked to sign up to be a Marine.
“The recruiter really pushed me to join the Navy because of my radio skills, but I told him I didn’t want to wear the Navy cap,” Hammond shared.
True to the Marine spirit, he held his ground and refused to enlist in the Navy.
On October 26, 1943, Hammond enlisted in the United States Marines. Next, he reported for boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego. After graduating boot camp in January 1944, he was sent back to Texas where he studied at the Naval Radio School at Texas A&M University.
Then it was back to the West Coast where Ivan and seven others were selected to receive further training in the aviation field at Camp Miramar, Calif.
After only nine days in Camp Miramar, he and the others were picked up in a truck and deposited in front of the 5th Joint Assault Signal Company, also known as JASCO, at Camp Pendleton.
JASCO units were used to coordinate air, artillery and naval gunfire support between the Marines, Army, and Navy during the Pacific Island-hopping campaign. Hammond was assigned to the Air Liaison Party Number 13 (ALP #13), attached to 3rd Battalion, 28th Marines.
Sargent Ivan Hammond was 19 years old when he was deployed to Iwo Jima as the leader of a team of radio operators. He was one of 20,000 Marines shipped out to the small Japanese island.
During his 36 days on Iwo Jima, he and his team called in multiple air strikes. ALP #13 called in one air strike on the base of Hot Rocks late on D-Day. ALP #13 called in two strikes on D+1. On D+2, ALP#13 called in a 40-plane air strike on the crater of Suribachi using napalm.
Sgt. Hammond was the first person to report to the command ships that the U.S. flag had been raised.
“The American flag now flies over Mount Suribachi,” were the words Hammond spoke into his hand-held radio.
With 36 days of combat, the United States Marines were able to take control of the island. The causalities were high, many Marines were injured, and 7,000 Marines lost their lives in the battle on Iwo Jima.
Hammond spent 50 years living his life as though the past never really mattered. He put his war years behind him and went on with living and didn’t speak of his experiences with anyone,
“We knew our dad had served in World War II, but he never talked about it while we were growing up,” Lynn shared.
As the 50th anniversary of the capturing of Iwo Jima was on the horizon, Hammond finally began sharing with his family about his role during the war and the historic battle for the island.
In April 1995 Hammond and his wife traveled to the anniversary ceremony and reunion with other Marines at Iwo Jima. Since that first reunion, he and his children have made numerous trips back to Iwo Jima to honor both the fallen US warriors and the fallen Japanese warriors.
With 98 years under his belt, his memory isn’t as fluid as it was when he first began talking about his war time experiences. But his adult children have been listening intently for the past 28 years and seem to have his stories memorized. They also have the notes he wrote and the notes they wrote about his experiences. Together the family is keeping his story alive.
Pictures from his time as a Marine help jog his memory and he begins speaking as though the War was just a couple months in his past.
He said of his time on Iwo Jima “It made me grow up early. I had to take control. When I had to tell a Marine to do something, the first thing I did was figure out who was the best Marine for the job. Even if he was a 23- or 24-year-old, he better not give me any static,” Hammond shared.
“I called in the airstrikes for our outfit,” Hammond spoke with confidence and clarity and pointed out directions as if he were still on the battlefield. “I’d tell the pilot which direction to come from and where to drop the bombs.”
“We stayed behind the front line because we had electrical training and they needed us to make the calls,” Hammond said. “I had a fox hole, but I wasn’t in it very much.”
“Once we got the enemy under control, we were free to roam around more. We all wanted to find out if there was anyone else on the island besides us. And of course, it was just us,” Hammond recalled.
With Iwo Jima secured, he along with other surviving Marines were shipped back to Hawaii.
Upon his return to the Big Island in Hawaii, Sgt. Hammond trained for Operation Olympic, which was to have been the U.S. Invasion of Kyushu, the third largest of Japan’s five main islands.
Operation Olympic was scheduled for November 1945. Japan surrendered in August 1945.
Rather than participate in another invasion, Sgt. Hamond was part of the American occupation team sent to Japan to begin the rehabilitation process of a nation devastated by war.
“I really liked it when I was sent to help rebuild Japan. That was my favorite time being a Marine. We were helping the people then,” Hammond’s lips turn up with a slight smile and his eyes shine a bit brighter as he continues speaking of his time in post-war Japan.
“The people were starving. There was a lot of destruction. The little kids were so hungry they’d come up to us because they knew we had food and we loved to give them candy,” Hammond said.
Hammond was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on May 16, 1946, and came back to Houston where he enrolled at the University of Houston.
“I went to college on the GI Bill,” Hammond shared.
One of his Marine buddies tried to convince him to reenlist, but he was ready to have a slice of Americana and enjoy life. Attending college, falling in love, and building a career were on his agenda. He had no intention of returning to the military.
While still a student, he met the love of his life, Aline, who was studying to be a nurse at St Joseph Nursing School in Houston. “My mom was Catholic, and she wouldn’t marry my dad unless he converted.” Lynn said. Therefore, Ivan P Hammond became a Catholic.
He and Aline married and together had five children. Aline stayed by his side until her death in 2016. From their union there are now 11 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Ivan completed a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Houston and his sweetheart completed her nursing program. He was offered a job right out of college with Union Carbide.
Though he wanted to put the war behind him, there were some scars such as the nightmares that haunted him for several years. He instructed his wife that if he was having a nightmare, she needed to reach out and gently touch his feet and ankles to wake him up.
“I told her just don’t ever touch me on my head or shoulders,” shared Hammond.
The couple lived in Houston for a while as newlyweds. Then they moved to Texas City, where they raised their family.
“My dad was offered many promotions, but he wouldn’t take any of them because it meant us kids would have to change schools, and Mom and Dad felt we were getting a good education in Texas City,” shared Lynn as her father nodded in agreement.
Once the kids had finished school, he and his wife moved to Santa Fe where he continues to live. Sgt. Hammond maintained his own home and his independence all the way up to the great freeze in 2021. Now he lives with his daughter in her Santa Fe home.
Saturday evenings you will find him, and his daughter seated together attending Mass at St. Mary of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Texas City.
He no longer travels to Iwo Jima, but he continues to attend reunions with fellow WWII Marine veterans. Last year he and his daughter traveled to San Diego for fellowship and remembering with fellow Marines and their families. This fall the reunion will be in San Antonio, and they plan to attend.