Dog tags found in Calif. desert belonged to Chenango soldier

NORWICH – Vietnam Veteran Carl Virden, while searching the southern California desert via metal detector with his father and a friend, unearthed a set of dog tags that have plagued him with their mystery for nearly two decades.

The tags contained the following information: Richard W. Hamilton, 32132801, Mrs. L. Hamilton, North Broad Street, Norwich, NY.

According to Virden, that particular area was home to General George S. Patton’s desert training camps, utilized to prepare Army personnel for the fighting in North Africa, which boasts a similar climate.

“Searching Patton’s desert training camps was different because all of the coins we found were dated 1943 or earlier,” said Virden. “Once I even located a buried C-rations can with a spoon still in it.”

While he said he never considered the C-ration discovery to be valuable, Virden commented that it made him “think about the person who left it there. What was his training in the desert like? What was his war experience? His fate?”

“When I found that dog tag, I had the same questions, but now with a name and other pertinent information,” stated Virden.

For years, Virden said he conducted his own search for the owner of the dog tags, or his family, with no results, though he admitted he’d never searched any Chenango County files.

“I did post an inquiry on either or under the Hamilton name, but got no response,” reported Virden, who added that he also tried “searching online military records of the service numbers,” but the “service number on the tag did not appear in those records.”

According to census records from 1920 and 1930, Floyd and Lavina Hamilton (hence the L. Hamilton located on the dog tags) resided in Oxford with their sons Richard, Kenneth, Harold and Joseph, in addition to daughter, Neta.

An Oxford Review-Times article dated Sept. 10, 1942, reported that Sergeant Richard Walter Hamilton, stationed at Pine Camp at the time (now known as Fort Drum in Jefferson County), had married Miss Mona Amy Keator, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Grover Keator of East Pharsalia.

A subsequent Review-Times article, dated Oct. 26, 1942, stated that “Sergeant Richard Hamilton has been sent from Tennessee to California, where his outfit is taking part in maneuvers.”

At some point during his training under General Patton, Hamilton must have lost his dog tags, contemplated Virden, and they remained buried in the sand for decades.

“As a veteran, it’s an incredible feeling to discover something that’s been underground for over 40 years,” said Virden. “It’s quite a thing to think about.”

The Norwich Sun, on Feb. 21, 1945, reported that Hamilton, as part of the Fourth Armored Division, whom the Germans regarded as ‘Supermen,’ according to George Daly of the Washington Bureau Watertown Daily Times, had taken injury and was “suffering from frozen feet.”

On Jan. 24, 1946, the Oxford Review-Times reported that Hamilton had “received his honorable discharge” and had returned to Oxford, where he was employed by Paul Dressler. The Review-Times added that “Richard, who was in the service for four-and-a-half-years, spent 21 months in the United States European Theater Operation (ETO) with the Fourth Armored Division of the Third Army,” and that “his ETO ribbon contains four battle stars and he has the good conduct ribbon.”

Virden commented that while he may never know how the dog tags ended up buried in the sand of the California desert, he has agreed to donate his find to the Chenango County Historical Society, and said he hopes that someday a descendant of the Chenango County soldier will claim them.

Richard Hamilton, at the age of 74, passed on March 13, 1988, and was joined by his wife in 1999. They had no children, although both obituaries mention a number of nieces and nephews. He is buried in the Taylor Cemetery, Taylor, NY.

To contact Carl Virden call (951) 264-3386.

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