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Veteran Spotlight: Airman Ben Hamilton

By Wayne SoaresSpecial to iBerkshires
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If I were to describe the subject of my Veteran Spotlight feature, it would be as extremely nice with an infectious smile and outstanding personality. 
 
Born in Ellaville, Ga., Ben Hamilton served his country in the Air Force from 1963 to 1967 as an airman second class. But Airman Hamilton almost never made it to his current age of 77 as he almost suffered a tragic accident at the age of 3. 
 
"We were visiting relatives in Tampa, Fla., and I fell three stories out of a window. I'm still here," he said laughing.
 
He enlisted with a friend in Springfield through the "Buddy Program," which allows small groups to enlist and train together, at 19 and was sent to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas. 
 
"It was kind of weird because the Air Force sent me my draft notice while I was already in. My mother sent it to me ... I'll never forget that," he said with a chuckle.
 
From Lackland, Hamilton was assigned to the former Chanute AFB in Illinois, where he worked in the highly dangerous capacity as a specialist, dealing with liquid oxygen and nitro for the jet fighters.
 
"Whenever lightning came we shut down everything very quickly," he recalled. In 1963 and 1964, Hamilton was assigned to the 26th Air Defense Missile Squadron at Otis AFB on Cape Cod. 
 
"The base was huge. When winter came, everything off base was deserted. The Bomarc missiles the Air Force bought were the lousiest missiles ever bought — a waste of money," he said laughing.
 
From there. Hamilton was sent to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. 
 
"Funny thing is, I didn't think we had bases in Turkey," he said. "When you got off the plane, you knew it was an old city, it smelled it. We lived in Quonset huts with no AC. Man it was hot. … I went into town all the time, had no problems with the locals."
 
When asked about being away for the holidays, he shrugged and said, "you didn't think about it, you just dealt with it. Every once in a while
they'd set you up with a phone call to your family at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning." 
 
He shared two powerful memories while stationed in Turkey. The first was "an earthquake at around 2-3 a.m. We didn't know what it was ... next morning we went out and looked at the giant hole in the earth. God it was huge, couldn't even see the bottom." 
 
The second took place when he was coming back from the mess hall. "We had a B-47 go down on one of our runways," he said. "It was a terrible crash. We lost three guys. I'll never forget that sight."
 
He said the entertainment for the troops was really good. "We had USO shows come in at the Airmen's Club, that was fun. We had a group come from Italy," he said. "They gave us the same thing for six months. It got kind of boring you know? Same thing for six months. All the good acts were going to the Pacific — we got what nobody else wanted." 
 
Hamilton finished his service with a final assignment to the former Blytheville AFB in Kansas. 
 
"It was a real hot spot during the Cold War, not there anymore," he said. 
 
His thoughts on his service?
 
"I did my duty, something you never forget. The pay was horrible when I went in, $78.80 a month," he said with a chuckle. 
 
Hamilton currently lives at Soldier On in Pittsfield. "They saved my life," he said referring to the veterans organization. "Wouldn't have survived prostate cancer if it weren't for them making sure I went to appointments and checking in on me."
 
Airman Ben Hamilton, thank you for your service to our great country.
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