Sgt. Vernon Hamilton’s plane was shot down over Germany during World War II. The plane and remains of the 19-year-old Army Air Corps engineer-gunner from Monongahela, Pennsylvania were never found. Decades later, an excavation and forensics team bring long-awaited closure to his family. WQED explores the diligent work of those researchers, and the poignant “welcome home” from the people of his small hometown.
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Family members receiving the flag from Vern Hamilton’s funeral at the Monongahela Cemetery.
Sgt. Hamilton’s remains are returned to Pittsburgh International Airport. April 11, 2019.
Sgt. Hamilton was among a crew of 3 when their A-26 bomber was shot down by German aircraft.
Along with Sgt. Hamilton, Sgt. John Kalausich (left) of Charleston, WV and pilot 2nd Lt. Lynn Hadfield of Salt Lake City, UT were killed in the crash. Their remains were also recovered and returned to family. (Photo courtesy: Mary Ann Turner Family)
Daily Republican, Monongahela, PA. April 5, 1945
Sgt. Hamilton's 1943 Monongahela High School class ring was recovered at the excavation site. (Photo courtesy: DPAA)
History Flight led the 2016 excavation in Reken, Germany, recovering the plane wreckage, human remains and personal effects. (Photo courtesy: History Flight)
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency oversees efforts to find and identify missing U.S. troops from conflicts dating back to World War II. The DPAA team was responsible for handling and identifying the remains and personal effects related to the Hamilton case and hundreds of others. Their work is ongoing.
History Flight: This privately-operated non-profit was called in by the DPAA to oversee and expedite the crash site excavation in Reken. History Flight is dedicated to researching, recovering and repatriating America’s servicemen who have been listed as Missing In Action during past American conflicts. As of October 2019, the organization has been responsible for more than 325 recoveries.
Homecoming: Sgt. Hamilton’s Long Journey is brought to WQED viewers by the Emmy Award winning production team of David Solomon and Paul Ruggieri. Their recent documentaries include Portraits for the Home Front: The Story of Elizabeth Black, Finding Elizabeth’s Soldiers, Long Road Home, Cresson: Remembering Life at the San, Before Stage Four: Confronting Early Psychosis.