John McCaslin

For the first time, James F. Pfister Jr., a U.S. Army prisoner of war in Vietnam from January 1968 to March 1973, tells us the rest of the story surrounding the recent burial in Bremond, Texas, of U.S. Marine Sgt. Dennis Hammond.

It was Pfister, after all, who first buried Hammond in March 1970. The sergeant had been captured by the Viet Cong in February 1968, one month after Pfister.

"In early 1968, he and another POW, Earl C. Weatherman, tried to escape," Pfister recalls. "Weatherman was killed, and Hammond was shot in the calf of the leg and brought back to camp. They beat him, put him in bamboo stocks, cut his food ration. After the escape attempt, he gradually started going down hill."

Finally, the Marine didn't wake up one morning.

"I helped bury Hammond in March 1970," Pfister tells The Beltway Beat. "After his burial, I carved an arrow in a tree marking the location. I am not sure when his remains were found."

This past April, Pfister was in Washington for his Army helicopter unit's reunion. His pilot, another ex-POW, told him some good news: Hammond's remains had been recovered and identified and were being sent back to the United States.

Shortly thereafter, Pfister received a phone call from Mike "Tiny" Readinger, who'd served in Hammond's unit, passing word along that the funeral services would be May 22 in Bremond. At the funeral home, Pfister was introduced for the first time to Carlene Hammond, the fallen POW's sister.

After he told her all he knew about her brother's imprisonment, Pfister says he entered the small chapel and placed both hands on Hammond's casket.

"Hi, Dennis, this is Jim. I'm here for you, buddy," Pfister said, overcome with emotion. The funeral procession to the cemetery was two miles long.

"People were standing along the side of the road, standing at attention, some people waving flags and signs that said, 'Thank you, Sgt. Hammond,'" says Pfister, feeling a "great big weight" was lifted off him at that moment.

He then watched as Hammond was buried again, this time with full military honors.


"Is he going to have a turkey dinner?"

- A White House correspondent's subtle way of asking a senior administration official on Monday whether President Bush is planning another surprise visit to Iraq similar to his unannounced trip to Baghdad for turkey and stuffing last Thanksgiving, now that Iraqis have assumed control of their government.


John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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