“It’s a miracle” – Family to attend funeral of missing World War II soldier from Northwood

Hammond as a boy in Northwood.

Hammond as a boy in Northwood. Courtesy

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 05-24-2024 2:35 PM

Modified: 05-29-2024 11:19 AM


From Tunisia, during World War II, Richard Hammond wrote a letter home to Northwood, New Hampshire. He was a young soldier in his 20s serving in the war and his sister was about to have a baby at home.

“Has Barbara had the baby yet,” he wrote to his mother.

His mom’s letter back never reached her son. Hammond died, at the age of 24, before he could receive word that he had a nephew, Frederick Seavey.

Seavey grew up hearing stories of his late uncle. On Wednesday, he’ll return to Northwood for his uncle’s funeral, where Hammond’s recently recovered remains will be buried with full military honors next to his parents and siblings in his hometown, 81 years after he died.

“When you really stop and think about this, this borders on being a miracle,” said Seavey.

Hammond was 24 years old when he went missing in action during World War II in Tunisia. In battle with German soldiers, his vehicle was struck by an explosive tank shell and he was thrown from the wreckage.

Seavey grew up spending time at his grandparents’ home where a framed photo of Hammond decorated the wall.

“Every day of my life I looked at that picture,” he said. “So I knew quite a bit about him although our lives really only overlapped by three and half months. He never knew of my existence.”

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Seavey’s father and another uncle would tell stories from high school, playing on the same baseball team with him. His father played right field while Hammond was at third. Together they won a regional championship.

He heard about his uncle’s years of teenage rebellion before he served in World War II. Hammond’s life was a sad subject of his grandmother, but one that his grandfather loved to entertain.

“He was happy-go-lucky and sometimes stepped over the line a little bit, but never anything malicious,” he said. “I got to learn a lot about a person that I never knew.”

Hammond served in Company A, a tank destroyer battalion in Tunisia. On Feb. 17 1943, he was declared missing in action after the explosion.

Hammond’s body was declared nonrecoverable in 1949 and the path to identifying him spanned decades.

After the war ended the American Graves Registration Command investigated and attempted to recover missing soldiers in Africa. In 1943, they came across remains near a destroyed half-track, which is what Hammond was driving at the time, near Sbeitla in Tunisia. Since staff could not identify the remains, they were sent to the U.S. Military Cemetery in Constantine, Algeria.

A historian from the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Accounting Agency was later studying American causalities in Tunisia and was able to match the half-track explosion to Hammond’s company.

In September 2022, the remains were sent for lab analysis and identification in coordination with the Tunisian government.

Scientists in the lab identified Hammond through dental and anthropological analysis. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System also used DNA.

On a memorial wall in Tunis, Tunisia, Hammond’s name is engraved alongside other veterans in the Walls of the Missing at the North Africa American Cemetery. A rosette next to his name will now indicate that his remains were found.

For Seavey, who now lives in Florida, the memorial on Wednesday will bring another chance for him to return to his hometown. Alongside other relatives, he’ll be at Purdy Memorial Chapel in Northwood to see his uncle laid to rest with full military honors.

“Here is an 81-year journey,” he said. “He will be interred one last time next to his mother, father and sister, back to the hometown that he grew up in, that he played baseball in and graduated high school from. It’s quite a story.”