Gerald W. Hamill, a Baltimore insurance executive and an eyewitness to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Sunday from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease, at his son's Bel Air home. The longtime Rodgers Forge resident was 80.
Mr. Hamill was an Army Air Corps mechanic and tail gunner assigned to a reconnaissance squadron at Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
Mr. Hamill had been lingering in bed at 7:45 a.m., recuperating from drills the day before that had been followed by a softball game and barbecue.
The Sunday morning tranquility was shattered when a bomb dropped from Japanese planes, fell near his barracks and blew him from his bunk.
"December 1941 was a time I was finally beginning to enjoy Honolulu," wrote Mr. Hamill in his personal journal.
"We had a full Saturday of drills and recreation. Sunday morning began with a bang! I was blown from my bunk and thought a plane had crashed into the building. I ran outside to see that we were being wiped out and the Japanese were circling overhead, taking their turns at us. It seemed to last forever," he wrote.
His son, Navy Cmdr. James W. Hamill of Bel Air, said, "As Japanese dive bombers and fighter aircraft laid waste to his squadron at Pearl Harbor, his most indelible memory is that the American flag at Hickam never took a direct hit and was waving proudly in the aftermath of that morning's devastation."
Wrote the elder Mr. Hamill: "I knew things would turn around because of that."
The attack launched by 183 Japanese bombers, fighters and torpedo planes sank or damaged 19 ships, killing 2,403 servicemen and civilians and wounding 1,178.
Mr. Hamill served in the Pacific Theater until he returned to Kessler Field in Louisiana, where he was a B-24 aircrew instructor. He was discharged at war's end with the rank of staff sergeant.
"I think because he survived the attack, thereafter everyday was a gift. And the underlying theme of his life, his intense patriotism, was a direct result of what happened at Pearl Harbor," said Commander Hamill.
Mr. Hamill later served as vice-president and president of the Maryland chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, whose members wear the organization's distinctive white-and-blue-trimmed campaign hat.
He also was instrumental in initiating the PHSA's participation in the annual Towson Fourth of July Parade and the annual Pearl Harbor Remembrance aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Taney in the Inner Harbor, the last surviving vessel of the attack.
Until his death, Mr. Hamill drove his gold Ford Taurus with a Pearl Harbor Survivors license plate bearing the number 130.
"They were very trying times," said Edward T. Robertson of Essex, who followed Mr. Hamill as PHSA president, recalling the Pearl Harbor attack.
"We may have rubbed elbows together but didn't know it at the time," said Mr. Robertson, who was serving that day with an anti-aircraft unit at Fort Shafter, another Pearl Harbor installation.
Friends since 1958 when they met in the PHSA, Mr. Robertson described Mr. Hamill as a "very concerned person who was always very sympathetic to members of the organization and always found time to visit the ill."
An insurance executive, Mr. Hamill began his career with Aetna Life and Casualty in Towson, and in 1959, established his own firm, G. W. Hamill & Associates. Until early last year, he was Baltimore general agent for North American Life and Health, and still worked at the time of his death.
Born and raised on his father's farm in Deer Park in Garrett County, he was a 1938 graduate of Oakland High School.
He farmed until he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939.
"He was a great American in the truest sense of the word and died peacefully with the American flag in full view," said Commander Hamill.
Services with full military honors are planned at 11 a.m. Saturday at Oakland Cemetery, High Street, Oakland.
In addition to his son, Mr. Hamill is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Doris G. Nunally; a daughter, Donna Mocarsky of the Brooklyn section of Baltimore; and five grandchildren.