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home : features : features May 22, 2015

11/11/2013 9:13:00 AM
Pathfinder remembers World War II
At 91, Hamilton still stays involved with veteran affairs
David Hamilton
Courtesy photo
David Hamilton
Courtesy photo

Patrick Whitehurst
Special to the Tribune

Prescott Valley veteran David Hamilton still gives back to the community, but at 91, he's slowing down just a bit.

Hamilton, president of the 9th Troop Carrier Command Pathfinder Group Association, is a member of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, an honorary member of the 82nd Airborne Division, and involved with the Wounded Warrior Project, which honors and empowers wounded service members. These days Hamilton keeps his involvement minimal and spends much of time visiting with his children in Phoenix, as well as with his grandson in college.

"Without the veterans there really wouldn't be much of anything, if you think about it. It was veterans, even in the Revolutionary War, who gave us the Constitution, the right to free speech; they gave us everything," Hamilton said. "When people ask about my age I tell them it was good genes and the bad aim of a lot of anti-aircraft guns."

Hamilton served as a Pathfinder for the Army-Air Force in World War II. Pathfinders were typically para-troopers or other specially trained operatives that operated drop zones for military personnel. Pathfinders were first instituted during World War II.

Hamilton comes from a family of military officers. His father, Pierpont Morgan Hamilton, served in both World Wars. In World War I, Pierpont served as a pilot. Following the war, he went into the banking business, but continued as a reserve officer. He was called back when World War II broke out, Hamilton said. Pierpont eventually retired as a Major General in the Korean War and never managed to return to the banking business.

Besides David Hamilton, his two brothers were also enlisted during the Second World War. Hamilton flew with the Pathfinders from a troop carrier during the war.

"I went from a private to a first lieutenant," he said. "We were specially trained and the Para-troopers we had were specially-equipped and trained. There were only 20 crews out of thousands that were chosen and trained with the Pathfinders."

His father served as a liaison officer to the Pentagon. In the early 1940s, he participated in the Dieppe raid, located on the coast of English Channel.

"My father made his report when he came back to the Pentagon and he was told, under top secret conditions, there was going to be an invasion in North Africa, and that he'd been assigned to General George Patton's taskforce that was going into Morocco," Hamilton said.

His father was initially tasked with negotiations at that time, and was once strafed by French aircraft while he and a small group of others made their way to an airport on a hill controlled by French squadrons. The year was 1943, Hamilton said.

"They were winding their way up and they turned a corner and a machine gun opened up on them," Hamilton said.

One passenger in the jeep was killed instantly, while Hamilton's father barely missed being shot by mere inches.

"They had two flags on the front of the jeep, an American and a French flag and my dad was holding a white flag of truce," Hamilton said. "He got so angry that he told the commander of the machine gun post that, under the Germans, he saw that the French now shoot at the flag of truce, which was disgraceful thing to do. It's like shooting a diplomat. My father then asked for directions to the top of the hill. He got up there and went into the general's office, where he was told he was a prisoner."

He then called the capital of Morocco where the French forces were based and was granted the use of French Bugler.

"He drove up and down the lines of the French troops blowing a cease fire. He saved quite a few lives. Patton was so impressed that he put my dad in for a medal of honor," Hamilton said.

He learned of his father's award while in flight school for the Air Force. The local newspaper ran a photograph of him as well, while highlighting his father's award.

"I got 11 or 12 proposals of marriage, all kind of things. I was 20 and still in basic training in Texas," Hamilton said.

Hamilton's first Pathfinder mission? The invasion of Normandy. Just days later he was assigned to General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters, where he flew passengers from Omaha Beach in Normandy into England.

"We had fighter escorts all the way," Hamilton said. "It was interesting. You had to be familiar with the call signs, the recognition signals and who to report to when you got there. Everything was in a tent or in dugouts level with the ground. Then, out of the 20 crews we had, they took 10 of us down to Italy to lead the south of France invasion."

The Pathfinders were later involved with the invasion of Holland.

"We did about four or five missions into Holland," Hamilton recalled.

After the war, Hamilton went to work for a Fortune 500 company. He later moved to the Prescott area to be near his son, who lived in Phoenix. He's lived in Prescott Valley since 1994.

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