Westminster man sees his war story coming `full circle' with medal

Stanley Hamilton Jr. accepts Bronze Star

December 12, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Nearly 60 years after he was severely wounded on a World War II battlefield, Stanley Hamilton Jr. accepted one of the nation's most prestigious combat medals yesterday.

Hamilton, 78, received the Bronze Star, engraved with his name, in a brief ceremony at Westminster's County Office Building. He was a reconnaissance scout for his platoon and continued his mission even after German tanks destroyed the Allied tanks he was using for cover.

In the ensuing battle, he lost part of a lung and sustained injuries that partially paralyzed his left arm and shoulder. Many years later, he counseled Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

"It took a long time, but this is a real honor for me," Hamilton said as his wife of 56 years smiled in the background. "I never wanted glory, but this is important to me and my family."

Arlene Hamilton said her husband is probably typical of many World War II veterans.

"It is only in recent years that he has begun talking of the war experiences," she said.

The star hangs from a deep red ribbon. On back of the medal, the words "heroic or meritorious achievement" surround the name Stanley Hamilton Jr.

At the urging of a friend, Hamilton applied for the Bronze Star a few years ago. He submitted news articles, photographs, wartime citations, several other medals and his disability pension to document his experiences.

According to Army archives, the Bronze Star, the 10th-highest medal and established in 1944, can be awarded to any person, who "distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement."

"I didn't want to beg for a medal, but I started to write down my experiences, and I felt the medal would make the story come full circle," he said. "The only real reason is for my son and my granddaughter. World War II veterans are disappearing at the rate of 1,200 a day, and there is nobody left of my platoon. Someone has to remember our stories."

Besides presenting Hamilton with the Bronze Star, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett gave him an engraved Purple Heart, a letter expressing thanks and an American flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol.

"I was wounded because I was up when I should have been down and because I was where I should not have been," Hamilton said. "I was Army reconnaissance. The only way we got out was to get wounded or killed."

Bartlett remarked on Hamilton's robust appearance and said, "You probably can still wear your old uniform."

The chatter ended with Hamilton saluting his representative and Bartlett commending his constituent for "for bravery beyond the call of duty."

"He is part of the greatest generation, who served their country all those years," Bartlett said. "That they are seeking these medals now is more often for their families than for themselves. Most of them did not wait around to get them after the war. They wanted to get home."

In the fall of 1944, while a 19-year-old Army private first class, Hamilton was scouting for the 84th Division in western Germany near the Belgian border. His platoon was assigned to a British force, under Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery, battling near Aachen.

Hamilton was caught in the crossfire between German and Allied tanks. He was left defenseless when the enemy destroyed the British tank he was using as a shield.

He remembers the snow, the mud, then taking several hits from German shells that the U.S. soldiers called "88s." He was bleeding from the mouth, and wounded in the chest, arm and shoulder. It would be nearly five hours before he was rescued, he said.

"I screamed `medic' often, but no one came," he said.

He was taken out of combat on a stretcher with "buzz bombs" dropping all around him. The medics dropped him from the stretcher so many times that he offered to walk with them. He underwent four surgeries and spent about 18 months recuperating in Army hospitals in England and, later, in the United States.

Hamilton said he could not wait to join the Army. He enlisted soon after graduating from Fort Hill High School in Cumberland. After basic training, he was assigned to a war college program at the Johns Hopkins University. He had completed two semesters when the Army found that it needed more troops overseas and curtailed the program.

"I went from college to the infantry," Hamilton said.

By August 1944, he was fighting in Europe. He scaled the hill at Omaha Beach, which was strewn with the wreckage of D-Day.

"I wondered how anybody could climb that hill, let alone under fire," he said.

The young infantryman soon began earning medals, including two battle stars and a marksman silver rifle. He recounted the events of the war yesterday.

"How would you ever forget going through something like that?" said George Otto, a neighbor who attended the medal ceremony.

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