Nolen Edwin Hamma was born December 11, 1916, in Keokuk, Iowa, to Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Hamma and Edna Myrtle Ralph Hamma. Nolen had two brothers, Merrill Franklin “Scotty” and Ralph Milton. In 1920, the family resided in Davenport, Iowa. Frank was a laborer.1 Sometime between then and 1925, Nolen’s mother left them, taking the baby, Ralph. In 1925, Merrill and Nolen, ages 10 and 8, were being boarded with Lucian and Marie Palmer in Davenport, who had three of their own children plus two nephews living there.2 Frank was a lodger at a separate house on Iowa Street in Davenport.3
In 1930, the boys were boarded with George and Daisy Diedrick in Davenport, along with two other boarders.4 Edna had remarried, and she and Ralph were living in Chicago with her new husband.5 Edna later moved to Los Angeles where in 1940 she was living as a lodger.
Nolen married Clara Louise Dorman in April of 1939.6 He was a truck driver at that time. They soon had a son, Glenn Edward, but he died 28 days after his birth of SIDS7 in 1940 (death certificate says asphyxiation).8
He registered for the draft in 1940 in Scott County and was working as a delivery man at Tri City Delivery.9 Clara and Nolen had a son in 1941, Nolen Leroy, who was nicknamed Ike. Dennis Michael was born in 1942. At Camp Dodge, Iowa, Nolen enlisted in the Army as a private on April 5, 1944. He had only one year of high school.10 He had 10 months overseas duty from October 14, 1944, until August 26, 1945. His discharge record lists his organization as Company E, 161st Infantry, however that unit served in the Guadalcanal, Northern Solomons, and Luzon campaigns. The campaigns Nolen served in as a rifleman were the Northern Apennines until April 4, 1945, and Po Valley, Italy, from April 5 to May 8.11
The Fifth Army had already been fighting in the Northern Apennines when Nolen arrived in Europe on October 29. During September and October the Allied forces lost 34,000 men there and were critically short on manpower. Morale was low. Prime Minister Churchill requested more American divisions but U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall turned down the request, preferring to send new units to France where progress was being made.12 However, between November 2 and 22, 5th Army’s commander, General Mark Clark, received 3,000 replacements. They were still short 7,000 men.
Many command changes occurred on both sides about that time with Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., returning from France on December 15, assuming command of Fifth Army. The Axis forces launched Operation Wintergewitter (Thunderstorm) on December 26 at Barga but began to withdraw the next day. Advancing Allied soldiers supported by aircraft pushed them back to their original position during four days of intense fighting during bitter weather.
The Allies ceased large-scale military operations in January 1945. The winter weather and the loss of five Eighth Army divisions (British) diminished their capabilities even further in Italy. They would spend the winter in the mountains amid snow and ice. They were highly inhospitable conditions. Although little progress had been made, the actions in the Apennines tied down a large German army that could have been used in the west and the east where the Allies were fighting in decisive campaigns against Germany.13 The winter months were used to prepare for a new offensive scheduled for April 1. By the end of March The Allies received additional artillery and anti tank units and combat teams. They were fully rested and resupplied and ready to take the fighting to the Po River Valley and mark the final Allied push of the war in Italy.
In April and early May, the Germans were unable to make a stand after being driven from their defensive positions south of the Po. On the 23rd, the 88th Division captured 11,000 prisoners on the south bank of the Po River. The Allied forces crossed the river on April 25. On May 4, the Fifth Army met up with the Seventh Army. With this joining of forces, the war in Italy was over. The unconditional surrender of the German Third Reich was signed in the early morning hours of Monday, May 7, 1945.
World War II in Italy was over. Its repercussions would be dealt with for generations to come. For more than 20 months, the two great armies had fought one another, and the casualties had been enormous. German losses have been estimated at more than 434,000, with 48,000 of those killed. Allied dead and wounded in Italy totaled more than 300,000. Historians continue to debate the strategic and tactical merit of many decisions made by commanders on both sides in the theater.
In the final analysis, Allied victory in Italy appears to have been inevitable. Whether it was worth the cost depends on individual perspective. True enough, the Mediterranean became a secondary theater following the Normandy invasion. However, to the men who fought, bled, and died in Italy, this was their battle, their war, and their sacrifice. The effort is worthy of the utmost respect.Michael E. Haskew, editor of WWII History magazine14
Nolen left the European Theater on August 14, arriving in the States on August 26. He was discharged November 7, 1945, at Camp Grant, Illinois.15
He qualified for the Combat Infantry Badge. The badge is awarded to infantrymen at the rank of colonel and below, who fought in active ground combat while assigned as members of an Infantry unit of brigade size or smaller at any time after December 6, 1941. His decorations and citations include European African Middle Eastern (EAME) Theater Ribbon with two bronze battle stars, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge General Order 95 5a 45 (I believe this is 5th Army, 1945), and one service bar. For those service members who participated in one or more designated military campaigns, campaign stars are authorized to be worn on the EAME medal.
In 1950, Nolen was a delivery man for a delivery service. Clara’s brother, Herbert Dorman, was living with them and the two boys.16 Two years later, Clara and Nolen divorced in April 1952, with the boys and the house going to Clara.17
In September, Nolen married Margaret Susan Gest. They would have five daughters and a son. He opened his own shop, Nolen’s Transmission Service, in Davenport, and operated it for 30 years, retiring in 1981. He was employed for a while at Louis Dockterman Plymouth beginning in 1962, where he was a mechanic, manager, and then foreman.18
In retirement, Nolen and Margaret loved the outdoors and nature and chose Spooner, Wisconsin, as a place to retire after having visited there many times on vacations. They bought a house on the lake and enjoyed fishing and watching nature in peace and quiet.
Nolen died March 1, 1993, at Trinity Moline, from cancer. Margaret died the following year, one week before her daughter, Linda’s wedding. They are both buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery.19
Nolen’s son, Dennis Michael Hamma, also served in the military during Vietnam where he was exposed to Agent Orange. He died from cancer.
7 Personal Interview with Nolen’s daughter, Linda Guebert on September 5, 2022
11 Discharge Record # 11 for Nolen E. Hamma, dated 16 Nov 1945, filed in Scott County, Iowa, and provided by daughter Linda Guebert
18 19 Nov 1962, 41 – The Daily Times at Newspapers.com Louis Dockterman Shop Foreman