In Viet Nam in 1968 and 1969, I had the great honor of working with a true American hero, a leader with courage, whose story I have told to countless people over the years.
I was a Captain in US Army Special Forces assigned as a Commander of a Commando Company doing long range reconnaissance along the border between Viet Nam and Cambodia. My First Sergeant was Sgt First Class James Hamilton, on his 3rd tour of duty in Viet Nam. His story is one of the most compelling I have ever known.
As a young man growing up in Pennsylvania, young Jim learned how to work and become tough and self-reliant. At an early age, he enlisted in the US Navy and experienced life away from home and out in the world. After his enlistment was up, he returned home and began work in the steel mills until one day, at age 23, he was diagnosed with polio. Doctors told him that he may not be able to walk again. After receiving the bad news and thinking about his situation, Jim did not accept the doctor’s evaluation. He pushed himself to be physically active and refused to become a victim. He not only began to walk, but also ran, and eventually, at age 32, he enlisted in the US Army. He didn’t stop there … he volunteered for Airborne School and ultimately Special Forces training. He was determined to be successful, and he was.
My time with Jim in Viet Nam was unforgettable, as we worked together operating the company and performing our missions in the field, as well as in base camp preparing for those “insertions” into the areas of operation with our men. As most soldiers do, we shared our rawest emotions, as well as blood, sweat and tears, as we worked together to accomplish our missions and successfully keep our men alive.
Jim and I pursued our separate careers after 1969, until one day in 2002, we connected via phone. We were able to spend time together as Jim came to where I lived near Seattle to spend two days with me catching up on “old times”. We now stay connected by phone and email, but our connection is so much stronger because with the passage of time, we realize the value of our bond and of the respect we share. Both of us have retired from the military, Jim as a Command Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank, and has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and is living life to the fullest with his wonderful wife, Ruth.
I want everyone to know that true service to country is epitomized by men like Jim Hamilton, who would not allow an unfortunate illness stand in the way of his duty and patriotism for the United States of America. He did not ask what can the country do for me. he did what he could do for our country. His example should be an inspiration to everyone who hears about it as it has been to me for over 40 years.
Jim, I love you and SALUTE you for your courage and your unforgettable example. I am humbled and honored by your precious friendship.