I inherited the history bug at a young age thanks to my stepfather. Legendary figures such as Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and George Armstrong Custer fascinated me as a child, and continue to do so today. So when our esteemed editor forwarded me an e-mail message describing a dog tag discovered in a southern California desert, bearing the name Richard W. Hamilton of North Broad Street in Norwich, well, needless to say I was hooked.
This story, in so many ways, represents everything I love about reporting in our fair city. Not only was I honestly intrigued by the bizarre series of events–Vietnam veteran Carl Virden takes up metal detection as a hobby, locates dog tag in the desert where General Patton trained the Fourth Armored Division of the Third Army, which just happens to have a large number of enlisted men from New York–I absolutely relished the challenge of researching and investigating a story such as this.
After a week of phone calls, Internet searches and hair-pulling I had learned very little except that Mr. Hamilton was raised in Chenango County (thank you United States Census), had three brothers and a sister, and that the frustration was beginning to set in. But as it is with so many investigations, sometimes all you need is a little luck and the smallest piece of information.
Armed with my trusty reporter notebook I made my way to the Chenango County Office Building, determined to find some information, anything, and I did find something, a date. March 13, 1988. While they couldn’t provide me with all of the information they had (the Department of Taxation is extremely careful with personal information, for which I commend them), I had finally learned something concrete. Richard Hamilton had in fact served with the military during World War II, and had passed away in March of 1988.
With an attitude of “hey, what can it hurt” I proceeded next door to the Guernsey Memorial Library, where the more-than-helpful staff assisted me in discovering the “mother load”, a compilation of newspaper ads dating back to the 1940’s, which contained a wealth of information on a Sergeant Richard Hamilton, Fourth Armored Division. Bingo.
The subsequent story garnered an immense amount of comment, and Mr. Virden, to whom I’m extremely grateful, received a number of phone calls regarding the local soldier, from family members, friends and even some who also had relatives that served in the Fourth Armored Division. But here’s where it just gets downright strange. Through all of my research it turns out that the best source for information was ten feet away from me, literally.
Linda Green, a fellow employee here in The Evening Sun office, is not only related to Hamilton (she’s his niece), her mother is Richard’s only surviving sibling, Nita McIntyre. Coincidence or fate, this bordered upon Twilight Zone creepiness in my book. I mean really, what are the odds that a story I’m covering, which originated all the way out in California, and concerned a Chenango County soldier who lost his dog tags, would turn out to involve someone sitting about eight steps away from my cubicle? I’m no mathematician, but it’s got to be something like 18 trillion to 1.
As I sit and write this I glance over at the dog tag, which I promised Mr. Virden to return to Richard’s closest living relative when I found them. This tiny piece of metal, which just traveled almost 3000 miles, represents something that I can barely grasp. It represents the story of a man that lived through the war, that returned to his family, friends and life. Richard trained under General Patton, another legendary historical figure, and fought in the deserts of North Africa against Nazi Germany. His is a story that will always resonate with me, and I’m honored to have been a part of it. I guess the old adage is absolutely true, it really is a small world.