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58th annual Last Man's Club honors fallen comrades

September 24, 2011|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alnotarianni@aol.com
  • Grady Grimm of Hagerstown and chaplain of the Last Man's Club of World War II at the Morris Frock American Legion Post 42 lights candles in honor of members who have passed away and military personal still serving today during the 58th annual memorial service and luncheon, Saturday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Sometimes it's nice to see a familiar face.

Especially when you are just barely of legal age, posted on a remote island and fighting a war.

For Howell Hammond, now 85, of Chambersburg, Pa., that familiar face belonged to Calvin Sheeler, also 85, of Hagerstown.

The men recounted their tale Saturday at the 58th annual Last Man's Club of World War II memorial service and luncheon at Morris Frock American Legion Post 42 in Hagerstown's north end.

Hammond and Sheeler both grew up in Hagerstown.

"We were friends since we were snot-nosed kids," Sheeler said.

Hammond joined the Navy in January 1944 when he was 17, and Sheeler followed shortly thereafter. Hammond was stationed aboard the USS Grumium, a cargo and aviation supply ship, while Sheeler served on an auxiliary personnel destroyer, but both men were deployed to the Pacific theater.

The men had served for more than a year and stayed in touch through letters. Then one day, as Sheeler's crew was preparing to set off for Okinawa, he had a surprise.

Hammond had spotted Sheeler's ship and had a boat take him to it.

"I hadn't seen his ship there," Sheeler said. "We were on some Pacific island north of Hawaii. I can't even remember what it was called."

The friends spent just a couple of hours together when a bell began to ring indicating that the destroyer was ready to take ship.

"The skipper said (Hammond) had to get off because he didn't want him as a crewman," Sheeler teased.

Mingled with the men's laughter was a more earnest tone. Both said it was uplifting to see a familiar face from home.

"I never knew if we would see each other again," Hammond said.

The Last Man's Club originally had 264 members, said Hammond, vice president and treasurer of the group. Four members died since last year's service and meeting, leaving 28 surviving. About 15 of those attended Saturday's festivities and some brought guests.

Club President Larry Martin, 86, of Hagerstown, said the group meets once a year to perpetuate kinship and to honor the memories of fallen comrades. A brief ceremony included prayer, lighting of memorial candles and a toast.

Club Chaplain Grady Grimm, 91, of Hagerstown, said most Last Man members don't like to reminisce much about harrowing war stories.

"It's just too rough to talk about some of the things," Grimm said. "I was hoping I would never see another war. I was hoping that would be the last war."

Grimm, who fought with an infantry squad in the Battle of the Bulge, had been married just a year when he was drafted.

"That was rough," Grimm said. "It was 20 degrees below zero in those foxholes. My hands and feet were frozen. I was hospitalized for six months. But I got back alive."

Martin said the group tries to offset difficult memories with a dose of humor and cheer.

"When we started out, we put a bottle of scotch out there by the fireplace (at the post)," he said. "The last man living gets the bottle of scotch."

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