School team footballer, Gold Coast Regiment, World Warfighter, national construction engineer, Foundation founder, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, friend, and the titles go on to describe this great son of Ghana — Ex Warrant Officer First Class (Ex-WO1) Joseph Ashitey Hammond who’s story has been a real page-turner.
I had the opportunity of chatting with him via Zoom where briefed me with great anecdotes through his life moments, war experiences, and his templates for peace as well as what he envisions for his nonprofit foundation.
Born a royalty in 1925 but not stopping at the privileges of his golden opportunity, Ex-WO1 refused a silver spoon in his mouth by quickly going to work, as he began a naive life through education as a school team footballer at a tender age. This school footballer will soon turn into Gold Coast regiment in 1943, for a heated life ahead which I am honored to share with you.
From regiment to world war II in India and Burma to surviving the February 28th Cross Road shootings of 1948 back home, in what years later, will birth the first independent Black African Nation – Ghana.
Nonagenarian and so what, this wartime hero is still fighting for good of humanity
This 96-year-old nonagenarian remains strong and agile as I sit back in my North Carolina home and watch him suck me into his world through the power of the internet while he chats me up from Ghana. Perhaps it would take more than a world war and a deadly ambush to silence the veteran. For him, wars are catastrophic, horrifying, and he believes the memory of those who fought and died in them will forever stay with him.
He was keen on the fact that many have sacrificed their existence to bring peace to the world, to their nations, and to causes they strongly believed in. This is why he keeps fighting to remain an example who would not take the peace enjoyed anywhere on earth lightly.
Ex-WO1 Hammond would frequently grin lightly at the camera, his gestures syncing with his words the horrors of what he had witnessed, every stare state of his early formative years when aged 16 he was recruited into a war he barely was old enough to fully understand. “War is not a child’s play. What I have seen with my eyes, and what I have passed through as I sit here, if anybody passes through that, they will be surprised… It is not a joke“, he said.
Not resembling what he had passed through though, the veteran likes to wear a warm smile. He was friendly when we reached out to him and with all honesty welcomed the idea of an interview. The almost half an hour interview which I also shared on my YouTube page sums the nonagenarian in one word if you ask me — vivacious! He was full of life and wasn’t letting his age define his youthful mindedness.
With his sharp memory, he made a sample story of his 2019 visitation to the annual Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in Great Britain. A remembrance dedicated to all those that served and sacrificed from Britain and the Commonwealth in the Second World War.
One could see the same old retired military pins to his chests accompanied by other medals, for our 96yr-old Ex-WO1 who looked a very giddy ex-serviceman, the vibe I kept getting was you are only as old as you let yourself be. “They were so happy when I mentioned my age, they said what? Sixteen years? Fighting in Burma?” he said with a delighted smile across his face about his experience at the Royal Albert Hall in the UK where he recounted his experiences at war.
Ex-W01 declined royalty in Ghana only to become closely acquainted with the British monarchy
“All these, you know awards and all these letters from Prince of Wales, you know the heir to the throne. You see all these people, they have a love for me” he said while pointing to the frames hanging on the walls of his living room, then resting his palm softly on his chest with a satisfying delight.
Although he is royalty, my old friend with a young heart remains a humble soul to his core. He takes me on a journey to his royal background where I discover he’s from the Royal Family of Teshie-Lenshie Ashitewe and Tutu royal family in Ghana’s capital city of Accra.
He mentioned that emissaries from the palace at one time came with the royal staff of authority, proposing to his father that he should volunteer a chieftain from his family. But for Mr. Hammond, his father, his uncle, and his brother (serving in the United States Army at the time), the chieftaincy offer was trouble in paradise. They would prefer assisting the kingdom in other ways than ascending to the throne hence they all declined.
For a generation obsessed with wealth and power, it may seem to us an astonishing refusal. But some people take the most unexpected turns for personal reasons, and for him, it was for peace, both for himself and his future.
Walking to raise awareness about COVID-19
I threw all my excuses for attempting difficult tasks in my future when Ex-W01 recounted his fundraising walk in Accra, in the heart and heat of 2020, under the scorching sun of the pandemic at the age of 95 back then. My admiration and respect and wonder peaks as I imagine this man, walking two miles a day for one week, as he raises awareness, in a bid to also raise US$600,000 for frontline workers and the vulnerable in Africa in May that year.
A walk that got him worthy admiration from his royal friends and government agencies alike. “The Prince of Wales gave a very big donation… Prince Harry also wrote a special letter and his wife Meghan did the same too…” he recounted.
Impressed by his tenacity, Iain Walker, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Ghana, joined him on his final day of the walk to show support. Even Queen Elizabeth II herself, delighted by this, considering his age, granted him a Commonwealth Points of Light award, for volunteering to raise awareness on social problems.
The Great Britain armed forces as well, were astonished. There were official and personal letters written in his honor. This is a man that has captured the heart of the world in his 90s.
Construction of monumental buildings, leading Ghana community in Togo, and late military honor
“Whenever I cast my mind back to those years, I feel so happy,” he said with a confident pride in himself. “Do you know the El Wak Stadium?” he asked, “our proud military stadium [in Ghana]… And to say that I, Hammond, I put my hand in it and [helped] build it, it is wonderful” he said about his days as the site manager for the project, boasting of top military personnel he worked along with.
The former Ambassador Hotel, now Movenpick Hotel, and the iconic Black Star Square, both respectively in Ghana are projects he also played a prominent role in the construction of.
Years later he held a pivotal role in building the community of Ghanaians in Togo, as its leader back in 2004 he mediated with the Embassy officials there at that time and fellow Ghanaians. Back even before then, he was also bringing his positive political experience to bear.
“I started my political career in 1972,” he said firmly, “because I know a lot about politics, I felt that I must serve my country in all spheres, political too“. But did Ghana recognize his efforts? Oh very well it did, he was honored respectfully when on August 24, 2020, approximately 75 years into his retirement from military service, he was brought back and promoted from Private to Warrant Officer Class 1, by the state of Ghana. A feat that has never happened before in the history of Ghana.
Family life, love for nation, and keeping the peace
When asked about his family, he said he is a widower, a grandfather, and a father to several children living well-deserved lives abroad at places like Europe in Barcelona Spain, Palermo Italy, etc.
One of them however lives with him in Ghana and helps him where necessary. That son is Joshua Asamani Hammond who holds a PhD in Marine Engineer but is also an Auto Engine Mechanic, a Gas technician, an IT Management – Software and Databases, and currently studying Mediating. We had Dr. Asamani come say hello over the video; he was a lovely young man with a big smile, I confess I was a little jealous but hey, maybe I might hit 90, if not I am still happy for the peak this nonagenarian gave me into his glorious life.
An amazing soul to his family, his country, and most importantly to the many souls he helps through his foundation — Joseph Ashitey Hammond Foundation — a legacy he wants to leave behind for every vulnerable in Africa and the diaspora.
On November 11, 2021, Ex-WO1 Hammond posted on his social media pages what I felt is a befitting way to end this piece: “It is always an honor to serve my motherland #Ghana and to speak briefly with the President [of Ghana] Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo at the field of Remembrance Osu Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The support is always appreciated both from fellow #Ghanaians and friends worldwide!“
Thanks a lot for reading guys, and please do make time if you have it, to support the Hammond Foundation, by directly visiting his website hammondfoundationgh.org which aims to promote peace and conflict resolution in Africa and also, create awareness on Climate Change… Follow him on the social media pages listed on the website, and don’t be fooled by his age, even though he’s the oldest person I ever interviewed, he knows his social media guys, watch him below yourselves.
Written by Oral Ofori