ANOTHER CHARLIE COMPANY WARRIOR CROSSES OVER
Our dear friend Layne Hammons passed away at his home early on Sunday morning August 27, 2006 at the age of 57 years. Layne was many different things to many different people. He was a loving husband to his beloved wife Sandra, devoted father to his three children, Paula, Travis and Justin, and a doting grandfather to his two grandchildren, Alex and Brianna. He was a great and wonderful friend to countless people who lived in the rural clay hills and piney woods of North Louisiana just south of Lake D’Arbonne. He was a magnificent warrior with the kindest of hearts who was devoted to those gallant soldiers that served with him in the mountains of Northern I Corps in the Republic of South Vietnam. He was the greatest of companions and a source of great joy to this writer. He enriched the lives of all who knew him.
To understand Layne and what kind of man he was, one need look no further than his roots, where he was raised and lived most of his life. Layne lived in a house nestled back off Highway # 151 on a rolling hill surrounded by a stand of mixed hardwood and pine timber, overlooking a pasture on several acres of land located about three miles west of rural Downsville, La, which is a small village about 20 miles north of Ruston, La. Except for his tour in the Army and a couple of years working as a lineman for Western Union after his return from Vietnam, Layne lived all of his life in this special part of the world with his extended family, neighbors and friends. The people who live in this area are the kind of people whose lives revolve around their families, their faith in God, their hunting dogs, their hunting vehicles, and their jobs. In this part of the world, a man’s character is defined (a) by his integrity and by his commitment to honor that which he says he will do, (b) by his willingness to help others in time of need, and (c) by his work ethic and devotion to his family and friends. No man who ever came from this part of the world more truly represented his roots and these values than our dear friend Layne Hammons.
Layne the family man: First and foremost Layne was a family man. Layne was a “one woman” man. The great love of his live was Sandra, whom he met in high school and married soon after graduation at the age of 18. His devotion to her was absolute as she was his soulmate. I have heard him say at least 50 times in my life, “L.T., I got a hell of a good woman”. He did. He also knew that there is nothing in this part of the world that is more treasured by a man in his life than “a good woman.” Second, Layne loved and was devoted to his three children, all of whom were the pride of his life and who brought him great joy. He and Sandra raised their children with the same values that had been instilled in them by their forebearers. Layne was particularly proud that all of his children received college educations, which had never been an option for him, as work beckoned him early in life when he took his first job changing flats on 18 wheelers at a truck stop on I-20 at the ripe age of 13. The apple of Layne’s eye in his later years were his two grandchildren, whom he loved to dote over and cherished greatly.
Layne the neighbor and friend: Layne amassed a horde of great friends in his life who inevitably enjoyed his non-confrontational and warm personality. I could tell numerous stories about Layne and his neighbors and friends, but I think that the funeral service for Layne reflects the high esteem he enjoyed from the people he had lived with all his life more than any story. The funeral visitation was held in Ruston the night before his burial in Downsville. It commenced at 5:00 PM and lasted well past 9:00 PM.. Country folk from all over Lincoln and Union parishes and from all walks of life poured into Ruston to pay their respects to this most remarkable of men. Mary and I arrived at the visitation at 6:15 PM, and the line standing outside in the 95 degree heat required an hour and a half wait to get to the front door of the funeral home and an additional 30 minute wait from the door to the chapel inside. When I left the funeral home at 8:30 PM, the line was longer than when I got there. The funeral service the next morning was much the same as most of the overflow crowd attending was unable to get a seat in the chapel. The elderly pastor preaching the service told the crowd he could not recall a funeral in his life with more people attending and with more floral wreaths. Layne had helped these people all his life. That so many people would come to celebrate the life of this incredible man of simple means who had helped so many people in his life came as no surprise to me, as I had been among Layne, his family, and his neighbors and friends on several occasions during visits to his house and hunting camp and was well aware that Layne Hammons was a man who enjoyed the love, respect, admiration and high esteem of all who knew him.
Layne the soldier: Layne was a consummate soldier who never shirked a duty or complained when given a mission or task. He brought the same values that had been instilled in him growing up to the Army and to his comrades that were fortunate enough to serve with him in Charlie Company. Layne was born to tote an M-60 machine gun. He loved humping the “big gun” and damn well knew that when the “shit hit the fan” he was “de man.” He knew that his buddies counted on him throwing out a lot of lead in these situations and it was not in his makeup to let them down. Layne was incapable of boasting of his accomplishments as a soldier and making himself out to be something he wasn’t. The only time in my life I ever heard him say anything about himself as a soldier was late one evening while sitting around the campfire at a deer camp after a lot of beers. Layne looked over at me and said, “L.T., you ain’t never had to call me to bring up the gun in a firefight when I was with ya.” He was dead right about that. No soldier ever manned the “big gun” with more fervor in a fight than Layne. My most vivid memory of Layne as a soldier is the memory I have of him and his loyal and trusty Assistant Gunner Chuck Damron going “head to head, mano a mano” with the NVA machine gunners up on Hill 1000 on the late morning and early afternoon of July 8, 1970. The memory of these two magnificent soldiers giving all that was asked of them and then some is etched in my mind forever as they burned up a machine gun barrel and fired up every round of M-60 ammo they had with them that day until they were both ordered off the hill by their commander.
Layne loved his fellow soldiers as brothers and they loved him the same way. He revered Cpt. Vazquez for what he was, the toughest man he ever knew and the greatest “combat leader” in the Army. Layne brought a different view of the Ripcord battle to the table than most. He kept things simple and in perspective. If you humped a ruck and had smelled a little cordite in your life in the mountains of Northern I Corps, you were admired and respected by Layne. He wasn’t interested in the controversies that evolved out of the Ripcord battle. The kind of man and soldier he was is best illustrated by the following story. Late one night after a lot of beers, a group of Ripcord veterans were sitting around a table in the hospitality suite at the Harrisburg Reunion pissing and moaning about the Ripcord book not saying this or that, and someone asked Layne about some passage in the book. Layne responded “I ain’t never read the book,” which elicited the following response from one of the guys: “Layne, you are the only man in the Ripcord Association that has not read the Ripcord book. How in the hell is that possible?” Layne’s simple but eloquent response was “Why do I need to read some book about Ripcord. I don’t need nobody to tell me what happened. Hell, I was there. I know what happened.” A period of silence followed and everyone simply nodded their heads, knowing that the man who had just spoken these simple words was the purest of warriors with the noblest of hearts. Layne then pulled a drag on a Camel and swallowed down a good bit of a Miller Lite and looked over at me and said, “Ain’t that right, LT.” I said “Layne, you be de man.” The man was beautiful. He liked to keep things simple, so I will put it simply. Layne Hammons was “a soldier’s soldier” and “a man’s man” who was loved and admired by his fellow soldiers as a ferocious fighting man when the situation required him to be. There is no enlisted soldier who fought in the Ripcord battle that I know that is held in higher esteem by his buddies than Layne Hammons. There is no man that I know or served with in Vietnam that was more loyal, caring, and devoted to his comrades in arms than Layne Hammons.
Layne my dear friend and hunting companion: Layne and I shared a very special relationship together as we only lived 90 miles from each other and shared many of the same interests. We are both North Louisiana boys and shared a great passion all our lives for (a) the great outdoors, (b) cigarettes, (c) beer and hard liquor (more often than not in great quantities), (d) true country music, and (e) spending time around campfires in hunting camps. We have gone together to a lot of different places in North Louisiana and East Texas pursuing our passions in life. We have spent untold hours together from daylight to dark in the burning heat with a chain saw and limber in our hands working on deer stands and clearing lanes and burning brush piles till we both were exhausted. We have shared together the joy of watching a white-tail buck during the “rut” running a herd of does through a white oak creek bottom and of a pair of mallards “cupping in” at dawn through the trees with their feet down to light in a “mallard hole” in some flooded timber. We have enjoyed the thrill of many a “Southern barbeque” followed by a “barnburner” North Louisiana dove hunt. We have both reveled in the joy that comes from owning the greatest of hunting dogs, but have at the same time shared the unbelievable pain and sorrow that comes from losing a loyal dog. We have spent countless hours talking of great men we were privileged and honored to know as soldiers in our youth at a special time in our lives when a man’s character was measured by the size of his heart and his devotion to his fellow soldiers and not by how much money or how many material things he possessed or could acquire. We have gazed at the stars while listening to Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and George Jones on the radio on many a cool, clear evening after a long day of hunting, and we have both together and probably much too often “howled at the moon” late in the evening after downing one too many beers or belts of some good John Barley corn whiskey. These were the best of times for us both, and Layne would invariably always end every evening we ever spent together with a simple statement, “L.T., it don’t get no better than this, does it.”
Layne the man: Layne was a man of few words most of the time and was bound at the hip to his identical twin brother Wayne. He loved God, his family, his friends and his country. He was a man who liked life to be simple and non-confrontational. He liked to tinker with things and could fix anything. He worked hard all his life. He loved to hunt deer and squirrels and hear his beagles howl when they jumped a deer. He loved his little rat terrier squirrel hunting dogs Tucker and Katie, who he trained to respond almost like humans. He was honest to a fault. He had no personal agenda. He was the most unassuming and unpretentious man I have ever known in my life. He was the easiest person I have ever known to be around. He was one of those rare men you meet in life that realizes its not what you are doing that matters much, but who you are doing it with that enriches your life. He was what he was. I have never spent time in my life with anyone that I enjoyed being with more than Layne. He made me feel better every time I was ever with him. He made me a better man.
Layne’s funeral service: Layne’s funeral service at the funeral home in Ruston was simple but inspiring. A few words spoken by the preacher and the playing of three country gospel songs that he would have liked to an overflow crowd of his family and friends was most fitting. After the service at the funeral home, the procession moved up the road 20 miles from Ruston to the small Downsville cemetery a couple of miles down the road from Layne’s house in the country. A full honor guard of infantrymen was sent for the burial from Ft. Polk. I arrived a little before the funeral procession and recount the following:
(1) Layne’s gravesite is located on the backside of the cemetery near the burial plots of other generations of the Hammons family.
(2) Approximately fifty yards south of the gravesite towards the highway in the undeveloped part of the cemetery stood the bugler at parade rest just behind:
(i) the spit shined boots (signifying the “boots on the ground” worn by countless American infantryman in venues all over the globe in our nation’s wars to preserve our way of life),
(ii) the assault rifle (signifying the chosen weapon of the infantryman to defend freedom and slay the enemies of our country), with the affixed steel bayonet in the ground, (signifying the iron will and core values of our great Army and the close-in fighting of the American infantryman on the battlefield for over 230 years),
(iii) the steel pot covering the butt of the assault rifle (signifying the traditional protective device for the infantryman in battle whose sworn oath is to protect the nation from those who would attack our freedoms).
(3) Approximately 20 yards south of the bugler were the stacked assault rifles of the Honor Guard (signifying the teamwork required of a rifle squad in combat)
(4) Approximately 50 yards due west of the stacked rifles on the road accessing the cemetery from the highway standing at parade rest was the Infantry Honor Guard comprised of (a) PFC’s and Spec 4’s from the 10th Mountain Division who are training at Ft. Polk prior to their deployment once again to Iraq in the next few months, and (b) an E-7 platoon sergeant and an E-6 Staff Sergeant (who coincidentally had served a tour with the 101st in Iraq as a machine gunner)
It was a sight that would warm any infantryman’s heart, and what followed was even more inspirational. The funeral procession arrived and the hearse pulled up on the cemetery road next to the Platoon Sergeant. He called the detachment to attention and they marched up the road to the hearse, removed the flag draped coffin from the hearse, and carried it approximately 50 yards to the gravesite, where the coffin was placed under the tent. The Staff Sergeant then marched with the remainder of the detachment across the field past the bugler to the stacked rifles and assumed the position of parade rest till the services were completed by the preacher. After completion of the preacher’s remarks, the Staff Sergeant called the Honor Guard to attention and gave the order to retrieve the stacked assault rifles. The Honor Guard then fired off the requisite three volleys, at which time the Honor Guard came to present arms. Wayne Spruill and myself, the Ripcord veterans present that day, came to present arms with two salutes that would tingle the spine of a Drill Instructor. The Bugler crisply raised his bugle to his lips, and the resonant and familiar sound of Taps echoed through the woods of North Louisiana. The silence of the crowd of attendees was deafening as all present were spellbound. It was one of those rare and remarkable moments frozen in time. I even observed out of the corner of my eye a fox squirrel up on a limb in a loblolly pine tree just behind Layne’s gravesite sitting upright at attention. Upon the completion of Taps, the bugler assumed the position of parade rest and the Honor Guard marched across the field to the coffin to retrieve the flag, which was meticulously folded by the Honor Guard and presented by the Staff Sergeant to the Platoon Sergeant in an exchange of salutes, after which the Platoon Sergeant presented the flag to Sandra on behalf of a grateful nation. It was a fitting end to a glorious celebration of a great man’s life.
Layne was a humble man who would have been uncomfortable with people making a big deal over his passing. He would much rather his friends remember him for what he was, a man of simple means who loved God, his family, his friends, his fellow soldiers, and his country. We are all grateful for his loyalty, devotion, and fidelity to us and to the nation. We have all been blessed by our friendship with this great warrior who now rests peaceably in the heavenly kingdom. I don’t know what the good Lord has in mind for Layne up there, but I suspect that he and his dear friend, the legendary pointman T.C. Manbeck, are probably both puffing on a cigarette and maybe sipping on a cold Miller Lite while helping the good Lord go about his daily tasks. What I do know is this. It don’t get no better than my pal, Layne Hammons.