Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg was born on May 31, 1920 in Daggett, Michigan and grew up in Flint, Michigan. He enlisted in the United States Navy on June 16, 1941 and was trained as a rescue and salvage diver. During World War II, he served aboard both the battleship USS Idaho (BB-42) and minesweeper USS Advent (AM-83).
On February 17, 1945, then-Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Hammerberg was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Two of his fellow divers became trapped during salvage operations on a sunken tank landing ship (LST). He unhesitatingly dove to the rescue of his shipmates, becoming trapped himself and losing his life in the process but saving the two others.
*HAMMERBERG, OWEN FRANCIS PATRICK
Rank and organization: Boatswain’s Mate Second Class, U.S. Navy
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a diver engaged in rescue operations at West Loch, Pearl Harbor, 17 February 1945. Aware of the danger when 2 fellow divers were hopelessly trapped in a cave-in of steel wreckage while tunneling with jet nozzles under an LST sunk in 40 feet of water and 20 feet of mud. Hammerberg unhesitatingly went overboard in a valiant attempt to effect their rescue despite the certain hazard of additional cave-ins and the risk of fouling his lifeline on jagged pieces of steel imbedded in the shifting mud. Washing a passage through the original excavation, he reached the first of the trapped men, freed him from the wreckage and, working desperately in pitch-black darkness, finally effected his release from fouled lines, thereby enabling him to reach the surface. Wearied but undaunted after several hours of arduous labor, Hammerberg resolved to continue his struggle to wash through the oozing submarine, subterranean mud in a determined effort to save the second diver. Venturing still farther under the buried hulk, he held tenaciously to his purpose, reaching a place immediately above the other man just as another cave-in occurred and a heavy piece of steel pinned him crosswise over his shipmate in a position which protected the man beneath from further injury while placing the full brunt of terrific pressure on himself. Although he succumbed in agony 18 hours after he had gone to the aid of his fellow divers, Hammerberg, by his cool judgment, unfaltering professional skill and consistent disregard of all personal danger in the face of tremendous odds, had contributed effectively to the saving of his 2 comrades. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
As with most of their Medal of Honor recipients, the Navy recognized the supreme courage and sacrifice of the 24-year-old diver by naming the USS Hammerberg (DE-1015), a Dealey-class destroyer escort, which served with our fleet from 1955 to 1973.
Hammerberg’s remains were eventually recovered, returned home, and laid to rest in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan.