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Tours of Duty: Porn and Patriotism - By - November 18, 2014 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Tours of Duty: Porn and Patriotism

“All my life I wanted to be a Marine,” porn performer Jack Hammer tells me over dinner just before Veteran's Day. Hammer joined the Marine Corps right out of high school. He was 18. At the time, porn wasn't on his radar; he planned on spending the rest of his career in the military. But after eight years in the Marines, which included one tour in Kuwait during the Gulf War, Hammer ended his military career.

Like many veterans, he was disillusioned when his tour ended. Many of his friends were sick with Gulf War Syndrome. “We were all sick cause of all those pills they made us take,” he says. “I have a friend who died from that stuff… [and] a few friends who bit a bullet when they came back,” he says. Not wanting to return to his old neighborhood in West Baltimore, he came out west to the Bay Area and worked odd jobs here and there. “I was trying to find myself after just coming back from a war,” he says.

Eventually, he landed a local government job with benefits. But his post-war soul-searching had left him with a lot of debt, so in 2007 he decided to take on a second job to make his way toward the American dream of being debt-free. He got into porn.

Like many ex-military men who found themselves in this city after a war, Hammer's love of snappy uniforms and protocols had led him down the rabbit hole and into the kinky wonderland of San Francisco. He had taught rappelling while serving in the Marines, so the knots of Shibari bondage came easily to him, and his career in BDSM porn took off almost immediately after his first scene, titled “Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Just Suck It.” The plan was not to be become a big porn star, let alone a director, as he is now at HardTied.com. Hammer says his entré into porn was mostly based on financial reasons.

But eventually Hammer's porn career came to be about more than just managing his debt. It became a way to manage the trauma that he carried from war. “You're conditioned to be able to take stuff, it makes you hard, it numbs you, so then you have to find that balance of being numb compared to when to be soft,” he says, “I've been doing porn for almost 8 years. That kind of started balancing me out.

“I wasn't trying to do it to get famous or anything,” he says, “but the next thing you know I'm walking on the red carpet at AVN's.” Turns out, Hammer wasn't just good at fighting for this country, he was good at fucking for it too.

But that weekend at the awards show in Vegas, Hammer received several missed calls from his doctor. When he finally checked his messages, everything changed. He had been diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer. The next year of his life was an epic battle to stay alive through seven months of chemotherapy and seven surgeries. Now, two years later, he is miraculously in remission. Marines are tough, and Hammer is no exception.

But recently, Hammer was hit with another piece of bad news. The government job that had kept him afloat through his battle with cancer fired him based on an anonymous tip about his involvement in the adult industry. After a year-and-a-half long investigation, he was finally let go this June, two years before he would have been able to retire. After more than 25 years of service to this country, including putting his life on the line in a war, Hammer lost close to seven figures in wages and pensions, as well as state benefits for himself and his young daughter.

Hammer is now participating in a class action lawsuit on the basis of wrongful termination against his former employers, but in the meantime his spirits remain high. Despite all he has been through, he remains a Marine to the core.

“There's been someone in my family fighting for this country since the Civil War,” he says. “I've been around the world four times. But everywhere you go you're not going to get the freedoms you get here.”

Like many veterans, Jack Hammer loves America unconditionally, even when that love isn't always returned.

Check out the podcast accompanying this week's column here.