Eugene D. Bookhammer, decorated veteran of World War II, former lieutenant governor of Delaware and lifelong philanthropist, died Saturday evening, Feb. 23, at his Lewes home. Born June 14, 1918, Bookhammer was 94 years old. Funeral arrangements haven't been finalized, but Keith Parsell of Parsell Funeral Homes said he expects services to be scheduled for next week.
Dick Carter, chairman of the Delaware Heritage Commission, wrote a biography of Bookhammer's life that was published in 2009.
“Gene was one of the most charming people that I ever met,” said Carter. “He was so charming that a lot of people might fail to realize that he had a mind like a steel trap. He was very smart and a man of great substance.”
Bookhammer served as Delaware's lieutenant governor for two terms, from 1969 to 1977. In his first term, he served with Republican Gov. Russell W. Peterson, and in his second term he served with Democratic Gov. Sherman W. Tribbitt. Prior to being elected to the lieutenant governor post, Bookhammer served in the state Senate from 1962 to 1968.
A lifelong Republican, Bookhammer also served many years as a Republican National Committee member for Delaware. In that position, he became acquainted with many figures on the national scene. When Bookhammer returned from the service, Carter said, he became involved with Delaware's Young Republicans organization. “In 1952,” said Carter, “Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated for the presidency. He was president of Columbia University at the time, and the Delaware delegation went to New York to meet him. Gene went along as a representative of Delaware's Young Republicans. When the delegation arrived, it was obvious Eisenhower had done research on the delegation.”
Carter said when the former five-star general saw where Bookhammer had served in Europe, he spent most of his time talking to him. “Apparently Delaware's old-line Republicans watched all this and wondered 'Who is this young guy anyway?'” said Carter.
At one point in his political career, Bookhammer also had the distinction of being offered the governorship of the U.S. island territory of Guam by President Gerald Ford. Carter said Bookhammer was honored but graciously declined.
Bookhammer joined the Army in 1943 as a 25-year-old and quickly found himself in hot action in Luxembourg, near the German border, just a couple of weeks after the allied forces' D-Day invasion under the direction of Eisenhower. Carter said Bookhammer's valorous action and injuries earned him a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. “But he was most proud of his Combat Infantryman's Badge. Among infantrymen, it was the most valued medal,” said Carter. “It gave an instant sign that 'this fella was there and done that.'”
Carter said Bookhammer gave generously of his time and money to the Boy Scouts, Wesley College and Beebe Medical Center. He served for many years as a member of the medical center's board of directors and as chairman of Beebe Medical Foundation. In December, 2005, Beebe Medical Center's board honored Bookhammer and his wife, Kitty, with the naming of the Eugene D. and Catherine W. Bookhammer Outpatient Care Center on the Route 24 campus. The building was officially dedicated in their honor in 2006 during the medical center's 90th anniversary year.
A complete obituary and funeral arrangements for Bookhammer will be published in the March 1 edition of the Cape Gazette and at capegazette.com when that information is received.