It’s not every day one meets a person of such historic notoriety. A man who now stands alone, having seen all his peers laid to rest over the decades following his exploits as a 21 year old aircraft command pilot. He flew the C47 Skytrain as a US Army Air Corps Lieutenant, now he is a living legend at 97 years old. When the door swung open, there he was; eyes as clear as diamonds and ready to go - Lt. Colonel David Hamilton, the only living D-Day Pathfinder Pilot. Hamilton sat erect, leaning jauntily on his cane with a crisp strong voice and a face lined as one that smiled naturally and often.
It’s easy to find hundreds of articles and videos telling of Hamilton’s flight into Normandy on June 6th, 1944. Watch this Livecast where he describes in vivid detail his 2:00 am paratrooper drop, barely missing the steeple of the Church Sainte-Mere-Eglise; taking 200 plus enemy hits without striking a single cable or crewman. Unable to stop his engines upon landing, he had to starve them of fuel. Heady stuff for a kid of 21.
Hamilton's back story is equally as intriguing.
While living on his grandmother’s chicken farm in New York, Hamilton explained, “A train a day would be sent up to our farm from New York City.” Hamilton’s Farm sold “...all kinds of milk, cream, butter, eggs and flowers. Our rival, the Harriman farm had one customer: West Point. We didn’t have one customer, we had multi-customers.” One might think being raised on a chicken farm meant a humble background; however, this was not the case.
David’s father, Pierpont Morgan Hamilton, was the great, great grandson of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury whose image we find on our ten dollar bill.
Lt. Col. Hamilton’s grandmother was Juliet Pierpont Morgan, the daughter of John Pierpont Morgan, today remembered as J.P.Morgan.
Pierpont Morgan Hamilton eventually rose to the rank of two star Major General in the Army Air corps, receiving America’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1942, for an extremely delicate surrender successfully negotiated in Morocco. Officer Hamilton pressed his mission even while in captivity, risking his own life repeatedly. Many American lives were spared because of his efforts.
With all these genes rolled into one feisty WW2 Lieutenant, young David Hamilton was tapped to be secretly trained at North Witham Airport in England next to 19 other pilots. Colonel Jerry Kidrick of Prescott’s Embry Riddle Aeronautical University explained, “They realized how critical the Pathfinder drop was because if they were in the wrong place then everyone else ended up in the wrong place. [Yet] they still scattered people all over, but less so because these guys (David and the Pathfinders) dropped their people in the right place.” Col. Kidrick further explained that today, “The Army plans for 13% casualties with every drop.” Even Lt. Col. Hamilton gasped at this statistic!
During the Embry Riddle '75th Anniversary of D-Day' celebration and Air Show, Prescott eNews had the privilege of flying in one of the original D-Day C-47s christened “D-Day Doll." Lt. Col. Hamilton climbed the steep steps of the aircraft with only minimal assistance: an aircraft identical to the one Hamilton flew 75 years ago, when he was just 21 years old.
During Saturday’s Air Show hundreds of young men and women in their early teens were there to volunteer. Pierce Nguyen (Nwen) was one of these young men. The son of Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen is a fiercely patriotic student at ERAU, being woven into the fabric of America that will one day protect us at home and abroad.
A legacy going back 233 years; passed from Treasurer Alexander Hamilton to a Medal of Honor recipient to a young pilot 75 years ago. The mission was carried forward by another generation 50 years ago in Southeast Asia, so that this fresh new Vietnamese patriot might lift the torch of liberty and claim his rights as an American citizen. Although Lt. Colonel David Hamilton has not met young Nguyen, he would surely be honored and pleased to know the legacy he passed on will be in good hands.
Photos from the C-47 Flight:
Editor’s Note: Some of the images shown here may be published under Creative Commons licensing. Images were possibly altered to accommodate the article. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/