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Colorful Characters: USAF Captain Jim Hamm, remembered after being killed in action

USAF Captain Jim Hamm, who was shot down over Vietnam in 1968 when he was 30-years-old.
Jim Hamm
Jim Hamm

Longmont residents regularly enjoy walking, birding and spotting other forms of wildlife on 24-acre Jim Hamm Nature Area. On Veterans Day, it’s worth taking a closer look at the man the preserve was named after — USAF Captain Jim Hamm, who was shot down over Vietnam in 1968 when he was 30-years-old.

Hamm was born to a well known Longmont family who lived on Third Avenue a block and a half from Main Street. His father Dick Hamm was a successful Main Street hardware merchant and part of Longmont’s 1971 Centennial Committee, according to Longmont: The First 150 Years by Erik Mason, Curator of Research at the Longmont Museum. 

Hamm’s maternal grandfather ran a farm on the track of land that ultimately became the nature preserve. As a child, Jim Hamm spent a lot of time swimming and fishing the land, according to Jim Gates, USAF Reserve Sergeant who knew of Hamm and was active in developing and maintaining the nature preserve.

Hamm was sent to Vietnam in the mid 1960s. One letter he wrote home included descriptions of what he experienced. “It’s 12:30 a.m. and I’m up relaxing and waiting the night through. In the last nine nights we’ve been rocketed six times … there’s no doubt who owns this area at night … but aside from losing some sleep, the attacks haven’t hurt anybody.” Hamm’s letter included concern for family matters, and a hope to be in Hawaii once his service was complete.

Hamm’s love of airplanes made him a natural for his heroic role in the service. 

“He was flying a two seater F-4 Phantom Aircraft, along with a munitions and navigator expert,” explained Gates. “They were flying in tandem with one another when they were shot down over a hostile area.”

Although both men landed safely on the ground, they landed at a distance from each other While his partner was rescued, Hamm was distanced enough to be in hostile territory and that’s when he showed his  bravery.

“Where he was was not able to be reached by rescue helicopter, it has been said that he kept calling in airstrikes on his own position until his radio went dead,” Gates said. “Talk about love of country. When you stop to think about the sacrifice that Jim made, in dedication to freedoms for people everywhere around the world, that’s really something.”

Hamm was originally listed as Missing in Action, but eventually was given Killed in Action status. A monument to Hamm includes a quote from Katherine Lee Bates’ America the Beautiful which said “For more than self, their Country loved.”

In 1974 and again in 2003, Hamm’s family donated land to the city of Longmont in Jim’s honor with plans to develop it as a nature preserve for public enjoyment. It was developed in three phases and finally completed in 2014. Gates recalled Hamm’s mother, who was still in her 90’s, was involved at that time. Hamm’s sisters both attended the park’s re-opening.

Honoring Hamm didn’t end with establishing the park. Gates and others advocated for the park to be managed with a level of dignity and care that serves as its own tribute.

Gates said there were stretches of time when the park attracted crime. He and others worked with the city to address the crime and were part of the effort to refresh the park.. When a developer proposed a plan which would have had a section of Ute Creek Golf Course blocking the sunset, advocates worked with developers to establish an elevated bench and sunset reflection area. They also worked to resolve flooding issues in the park.

Ben Romero, Commander of American Legion Post 32 in Longmont, believes maintaining these, and other parks with memorials in them such as Kensington Park and Roosevelt Park, are important ways to honor area veterans. They inspire others to continue telling the veterans’ stories.

“We’re very proud of that park out there, and all of the other parks,” Romero said. “People don’t always know what veterans went through. The parks honor these young kids, who gave their lives for our country. For our freedom.”

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