When Army private Robert ‘Bob’ Hammel was a teenager, he was told by his superiors at the Ordnance Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md., that he was not likely to survive his assignment on the bomb disposal unit during World War II.
More than 80 years later, dozens of individuals from across the state and around the country came together for a special Veterans Day ceremony to recognize his bravery and service during the prolonged conflict that saw more than 75 million casualties. They were also there to help him celebrate his 100th birthday.
“I am just thrilled to death to be able to experience this occasion,” he said with a grin.
Hammel, a long-time resident of Grove City, does not usually like it when people make a fuss over him.
“He is a very humble man, never wanting the attention to be on him,” said his daughter, Janice Hammel. “In fact, me and my brothers were not even sure that he would want us to throw him a party but we overrode those thoughts because we felt that he deserved to be celebrated.
“We wanted him to know that he has been a blessing to us and we wanted to show him how much he is loved and how much he has meant to this family and to just about everyone who has ever met him.”
He said while looking around the room that was filled with friends and his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren that he was glad they decided to make a fuss.
“There is nothing I love more than my family,” he said. “To see them all here together means the world to me.”
Robert Samuel Hammel, or ‘Bob’ as he prefers to be called, was born on Nov. 30 1923 just outside of Wheeling, W. Va. It was there that he discovered his passion for currents and his desire to become an electrician.
“I was always playing with batteries and switches, trying to build stuff so I could get the electric working,” he said. “It probably wasn’t always safe to do but it was what I enjoyed the most.”
After his mother’s death at the age of 10, the Hammel family moved to Columbus so his engineer father could look for work in the industrial area. It was here that he discovered his passion for Della Worley and his desire to become her husband.
“She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen,” he recalled of the brunette with hazel eyes. “She had a great smile, a great shape, and she had the biggest heart.”
World War II broke out during their courtship and the two married during his senior year so they could “spend more time together” before he was sent to basic training. It was there that the Army discovered his aptitude for mathematics and mechanics and he was reassigned to the bomb disposal unit.
When he arrived at the Ordnance Proving Ground in 1943, he was told the percentage of Allied service members assigned to these units had a mortality rate of 80 percent. He was warned not to make plans for the future.
Hammel said he thought that recommendation was a bit absurd.
“We all wanted to think of our future,” he said. “We all wanted to live.”
He said he came to realize that it was sound advice at the time, especially as his unit drove to sites across the east coast to decommission unexploded and possibly booby-trapped ordnance shipped from overseas.
“You just cried and prayed and kept your mind free of your wife, your family, your hope for the future,” he said.
Hammel said by the grace of God he and his buddies defied the odds.
“My unit never missed a mark,” he said proudly. “Every bomb was recovered and defused.”
After he was discharged from the military, Sgt. Hammel was finally able to focus on a future that included three children and the arrival of what seems like hundreds of descendants.
“We have too many to count accurately at this time,” quipped son Greg Hammel.
Although Bob was a tireless worker – his health forced him to retire as a supervisor of the Westinghouse Manufacturing Plant in the 1980s where his claim to fame was bringing the company into federal compliance by removing unclean emissions – he was also a tireless husband, father and grandfather.
“He worked so much but he was always there for us, always allowing us to try new things, giving us grace when we failed and encouraging us every step of the way,” said Janice. “I can’t begin to fully list all the things he has done for what, what he has meant to us, and what he continues to mean to us.”
When reflecting upon his life thus far, Bob said he does not think he would be the person he is today without his family by his side.
“They are everything,” he said. “I think they are the reason we live.”
He added that family can even be the reason why someone who is nearing the century mark can still dream of the future.
“I feel blessed to be able to wake up and go about my day,” he said, “but I am also excited because in another hundred years I will be in my Della’s arms and we will be surrounded by our loved ones.
“There we will live forever.”