By Kathy Eastwood (USMA West Point, Public Affairs)January 22, 2016
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Jan. 22, 2015) - Retired Sgt. 1st Class Thomas B. Hamilton III, U.S. Army West Point Garrison public affairs chief, was presented the Soldiers Medal by U.S. Military Academy at West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. in the Thayer Award Room in Taylor Hall, Jan. 12.
His wife Joanna, daughter Josephine, sons Luka and Jakub flew in from Bad Windsheim, Germany to attend the ceremony. His parents Kathi and Thomas Hamilton Jr. flew in from Seattle, Washington to see their son receive his medal.
The medal had been awarded to Hamilton in 1989, but he never received it.
"I am really nervous about this," Hamilton said. "I'm not used to getting awards, just giving them out. I've never had a presentation like this--ever."
Back when Hamilton was an Army Specialist, he was assigned to the 6/101 Airborne Division, Aviation Battalion at Fort Campbell, Kentucky as a UH-1H, Iroquois (Huey) helicopter crew chief and door gunner. In June 1988, Hamilton deployed with the 6/101 Airborne Aviation Battalion to San Salvador, El Salvador in support of the U.S. Embassy.
On Aug. 30, 1988, Hamilton flew to Palmerola Airbase in Honduras with his commander, who was the pilot, and co-pilot to drop off a helicopter for maintenance. They were to fly back to El Salvador with an already serviced helicopter. Just after takeoff en route to San Salvador, the helicopter had a catastrophic engine failure and crash-landed in a corn field.
The helicopter flipped onto its right side leaving all three dazed and disoriented.
Without hesitation, Hamilton extracted himself, turned off the battery and fuel flow to the helicopter and extracted the two men. He then lifted them over a fence, one by one, to be attended to by medics who arrived shortly after the incident. Before Hamilton was seen by the medics, he returned once again to the helicopter to retrieve the log books and maintenance records in case they were needed for an investigation. Hamilton finally allowed the medics to attend to him and placed him in the Blackhawk MedEvac to be air lifted to the medical facility on Palmerola Airbase.
After the incident, Hamilton was informed by his command that he was being recommended for a Soldiers Medal. After returning to Fort Campbell and moving to Germany in 1989, Hamilton had not received the Soldiers Medal and it was forgotten.
Hamilton retired after 24 years of service in Germany in 2009 and became a government service civilian, public affairs specialist, webmaster and social media expert at U.S. Army Garrison, Ansbach, Germany.
In November 2014, Hamilton was giving an impromptu class on social media and demonstrated the importance of retaining online privacy by Googling his name. During the session, an alert Public Affairs Chief, Lori Yerdon, asked Hamilton to "put U.S. Army after your name" to see what information that would provide.
"After doing so, the very first result was a .pdf listing "Specialist Thomas B. Hamilton III, United States Army, for heroism on 30 …," Hamilton said. "I clicked on the link and discovered that I had been awarded a Soldiers Medal in 1989 by the then Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Carl E. Vuono."
Hamilton said he had been trying to receive the medal ever since then.
In June 2015, he moved to the U.S. Army Garrison, West Point as the Chief of Public Affairs.
"I resumed my efforts in having the Soldiers Medal awarded and finally, in November, I was notified by the Human Resources division that I had been awarded the medal and the certificate issued Oct. 30, 2015.
"What made the ceremony extra special for me was it was also my 7th wedding anniversary," Hamilton said.
"It was the Garrison Command Sgt. Maj, Joel Crawford who pushed (the presentation ceremony) through because he thought the Soldiers Medal should be presented to me in a formal matter, otherwise anyone could just give it to me," Hamilton said. "Crawford made all the connections."