Ed Hemmann: Thanks for the Memories
Ed Hemmann is a war veteran, not of Afghanistan, not of Iraq, not of Vietnam or Korea, but of a war that increasingly few people living today have firsthand memories of: World War II.
A new exhibit, Remembering our Deep River Veterans at the Deep River Historical Society, will focus documenting the experiences of America’s wars, both of those people who fought and those supporting them on the home front. The exhibit was scheduled to open on June 4 and run through September but Historical Society Vice-President Rhonda Forristall says there is already some thought of extending it. The inspiration for the exhibit was the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The exhibit will include photos, newspaper articles, excerpts from letters of soldiers and their families, and period details like the famous radio broadcast announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In addition, the society plans to paint an outline of a Waco glider, used to carry troops and cargo, on the lawn to show its size. Some of the gliders were made at locally by Pratt Read Co. in both Deep River and Ivoryton. According to Forristall, the company made some 900 gliders in the towns.
Ed, now 98 and a Deep River resident, didn’t enlist when he went into the Army in 1943. He was a draftee.
“I was enlisted,” he recalls—but he had some choice when he was asked what he would like to do.
He said he wanted to be an Army amphibious engineer. He had read about the Army amphibious engineers, a service that combined sailing and soldiering in transporting troops and material to different locations. He already knew about boating.
“I grew up in Wethersfield and Wethersfield Cove,” he says.
Ed, who had worked at Pratt & Whitney before being drafted, did his training at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod. He became a coxswain, who served as the navigator, on a 53-foot landing craft, and then an armorer, responsible for the maintenance of equipment.
He served in the South Pacific, New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan.
“We were among the first troops in occupied Japan, near Osaka. I saw Japan right after the war ended,” he says.
He contrasts the country he saw then with the modern industrial power Japan is today.
“It is amazing what it has become,” he says.
When Americans wanted to go off base during his time in Japan, they had to go in groups of three. He remembers going to the commissary and taking sugar cubes, which American soldiers gave out to Japanese children.
“We’d walk down the street and a cadre of youngsters would follow, asking for candy, please,” he says.
Ed was discharged in California in 1946 and returned to Connecticut, where he began a career in banking that lasted until he retired in 1985. He started out as an auditor with the Phoenix State Bank and Trust, ultimately absorbed over the years through a series of mergers into Chase Bank.
He met his wife Roberta, known by her nickname Bobbi, who worked summers at Phoenix. She died two years ago after 66 years of marriage.
“It’s still hard. She was a great gal,” Ed says.
His son, also named Ed, lives in Bologna, Italy, but his daughter Joyce Bugbee is far closer, in Higganum. There are not only grandchildren but a recent great-grandchild.
Ed and Bobbi moved to Higganum when she got a job teaching 1st grade in Middletown. Ed got a position at the Moodus Savings Bank, and later worked for the Essex Savings Bank. He retired in 1985 as the manager of Essex Savings Bank’s Old Lyme branch.
“I liked the interaction with customers. I like to spend time visiting with people, being able to talk to people. Being in banking gave me that opportunity,” Ed says.
He continued after retirement visiting and talking to people in a number of volunteer jobs, including at the information desk at Middlesex Hospital’s Outpatient Center in Middletown and at the Westbrook I-95 Tourist Information Center. He also volunteers at the Deep River Congregational Church.
Ed now lives alone. He gets Meals on Wheels and neighbors also contribute dinners. He does his own wash and his own grocery shopping and has a housekeeper once a month.
“I don’t know why I’ve lived so long,” he says.
His mother died young, while he was overseas during the war, and his father died in his 70s. Though he uses a walker, he describes himself as “in pretty good shape.” With reservations, that is.
“The engine still works but the body is beginning to fall part,” he adds.
Remembering our Deep River Veterans
Remembering our Deep River Veterans is at the Deep River Historical Society, 245 Main Street, Deep River, through the end of September. The exhibit is open Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Admission is free. For more information, call 860-526-1449 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.