By Theresa McGregor
Have you ever traveled west on I-69 through Flint, noticed the exit to Hammerberg Road and asked yourself where that name came from? It doesn’t seem to fit in with Dort Highway, Saginaw St and Davison Road. Well, you can learn a lot of history by looking at street names. Travel to many Michigan towns including Port Huron and close to downtown, you will find Court Street and Church Street. On those streets, you will find the old courthouse and probably several churches, the mainstays of early American towns. Flint has Chevrolet Ave, Detroit St, and Dort Hwy, reflecting its automotive history. The streets in downtown Detroit are named after the early settlers, Beaubien, St Antoine, St Aubin, and Dequindre.
Now back to Hammerberg Road. It is named after Owen (Francis P.) Hammerberg who along with his three brothers, Ed, Bob and Harold served in the US Navy during WWII. Ed Hammerberg was my uncle and while I was a child, I heard stories about Owen. As a Navy diver stationed in Pearl Harbor, Owen survived the Japanese attack. Sometime later, two divers doing salvage work were trapped in underwater wreckage and Owen volunteered to go down to rescue them. He saved the two sailors but became trapped himself and died at the age of 25. Although the navy offered to bury him in Arlington Cemetery, his mother requested that he be buried close to her home. You can find his grave is in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.
Owen Hammerberg was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The medal is on display in the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth.
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The USS Hammerberg, a Dealey-class destroyer named after Owen was launched in 1954. Uncle Ed, Aunt Pris and the rest of the Hammerberg family were flown by the Navy to attend the launch. This was probably the first flight for most of them because jets were not put in service until the late 1950s and most middle-class people could not afford to fly. A round-trip ticket cost approximately $150, 200 times the minimum wage of $0.75 hour. My grandparents were in New York City at the time and my grandfather who was an avid amateur photographer took pictures at the launch.
You can read more about Owen Hammerberg and the USS Hammerberg by doing online searches. You will find pictures, crew rosters, lists of the ship’s missions and more. Every year there is a reunion of the USS Hammerberg and in June 2019, the reunion was held right here in Port Huron.
Author’s note: The photos were taken by my grandfather, Patrick H. Kehoe of Flint. We have them available thanks to my brother John Charette who organized all the slides and had them digitized.