Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Kankakee Man Who Sent Fords to Vietnam in 1954 - Romy Hammes

Click my post title for more on the great Romy Hammes at Jerry

Thirty (30) 1950 and 1951 vintage Fords (two door hard top) and five Ford trucks went from Kankakee/South Bend to Haiphong, because of Romy and Dorothy Hammes. They were two American Catholics with a great deal of money and resources to do good works. Hammes vowed to the Blessed Virgin to share his worldly goods with those in need to tune of 25% of all that he made in this life. There were many other hands, besides the good priest in charge of Catholic Relief Services who reached out to the Hammes family, who were launching ot theirs as well: Anti-Catholic elites, cynical opportunists and Intelligence operatives. The Hammes family wanted to help suffering people and many other powerful and influential people wanted to make the most out of a good deed.

In 1954, after the fall of Dien Bien Phu and the French capitulation in Indochina, Father Joseph Hartnett a priest from Philadelphia reached out to Kankakee Ford Dealer Romy Hammes to help the thousands of Catholic Vietnamese refugees flooding south. At the time, America had refused to sign the Geneva Accords which created two Vietnams - North of the 17th Parallel Communist and South of the 17th A puppet regime headed by the Roman Catholic Diem.

The CIA and the Roman Catholic Church mounted Operation Virgin Mary, which goaded Catholics north of the 17th Parallel to head south. A million North Vietnamese refugees flooded the port of Haiphong. There was no adequate transportation and so Catholic Relief Services headed by Father Joseph Harnett, who had directed the post WWII refugee efforst in Trieste until 1952 reached out to American Catholics like Romy Hammes.

Hammes, who had made vow to share 25% of everything made with Our Lady made good on that vow.

This was a time when Communism threatened all of Asia and post-McCarthy American elites were trying to regroup and pluck hegemony from the hands of the Catholic clique in America’s foreign policy and intelligence communities. The torch of leadership had passed from Wild Bill Donovan to Allen Dulles at the CIA.

Aboard an American naval AKA ( Attack Cargo Transport) vessel USS Montague in Haiphong Harbor was a handsome and all-too-humanly complex doctor from St. Louis. Ashore in Saigon was career spy. Also, in close contact with this spy were competing aid and relief agencies that cloaked people of wildly dissimilar motives and agendas.

Here is a succinct redaction of those points of view at center of this series of events:

There also was the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the American Friends of Vietnam (AFV), two organizations described by James Fisher as made up of "leftist entrepreneurs bent on expanding their markets abroad in the immediate post-McCarthy era." Imbued with a "messianic liberalism," the two groups had interlocking memberships, and were made up in many instances of former socialists who had shed their anti-fascist orientation and now turned anti-communist. Harold Oram, for example, was head of the American Friends of Vietnam, an organization that boasted John F. Kennedy and Mike Mansfield, two notable Catholic democrats. Yet Oram did publicity work for Planned Parenthood and hired Peter White, grandson of the renowned New York architect, Stanford White, to work on the Diem account. Peter White and his wife, both Catholics, had a large family and were part of the Catholic intellectual revival of the post war years. Their friends included the writers Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, and Edward Rice, founding editor of Jubilee, a Catholic monthly of high church graphics and literary and theological brightness.

I wish to tell the story of the Romy and Dorothy Hammes gift to the people of Vietnam in 1954. This story will bring together the conflicts that seem to have shaped American Foreign Policy in Vietnam and ultimately in American intellectual, political and religious life.

I see this story to be a point of focus for a discussion on the betrayal of American Catholicism and advent of America’s ‘disinterested’ religious soul.

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