Above: Harold Hamlin holds the commissioning pennant that flew from the masthead of the USS Wren the day it was decommissioned in 1946.
A booth at the 1993 Kansas State Fair held centuries of intrigue for Legionnaire Harold Hamlin, a World War II Navy veteran. At a genealogy display, a visitor could type his information into a computer there and see if any family ties were found.
The person operating the booth was surprised. Most visitors had come up without any luck, not even one ping. Harold's came back with 12 names.
Harold had wondered about his family's genealogy, where his people came from, since he was a boy.
"As a child living in western Kansas, in Garden City, I read books profusely during that time because there wasn’t much else to do," he said. "My mom and dad and sister didn’t really have very much in the way of monetary things. We were quite poor. I would probably go to the library if not every day, then every week two or three times, and did an awful lot of reading. My dad and my mother couldn’t tell me very much about my ancestry. . . . I was just curious, thought it sure would be nice to know something about my ancestry."
That curiosity would lead Harold to a lifelong passion for history. He went on to hold a master's degree in the subject.
As a retired teacher and guidance counselor, he was looking for a new hobby to fill his time, which this stroke of state-fair luck provided.
Afterwards, Harold and his wife spent one day a week for the next year at the Mormon temple - where an ancestor's brother had lots of information filed - in Wichita, Kan., researching and taking notes.
After extensive research and making seven genealogical books, he can say that at least seven generations of his family tree, including himself, served the U.S. military. (In fact, his research led him to find he is a descendant of Maj. William Bradford, son of Gov. William Bradford, who came to America on the Mayflower. The major was commander-in-chief of the Plymouth forces.)
Harold's great-great-great grandfather Thomas Hamlin Jr., served as a private during the Revolutionary War and fought during the Battle of Long Island.
Harold’s great-great grandfather, Cook Hamlin, served for a little more than a month as a private in Capt. John Brown's Company of the New York Militia.
"I think the only reason he was in what we would call the War of 1812 was he lived in New York and he joined the militia because there was threat of invasion from Canada by the British," Harold said. He said when that threat ended, about the same time the war ended, his services may no longer have been needed.
But not all the recognition goes to his father's side.
When he was a child, his mother could only remember that she had a grandfather from Iowa. Harold found that that grandfather, John Rice, joined the Union Army during the Civil War. He became a member of the 39th Iowa Infantry, Company A, fought throughout the South, and participated in Sherman's March to the Sea. The company was also at the Grand Review celebration in May 1865 in Washington.
Harold was able to pay respects at Rice's grave.
Of course, Harold knew about his father, Vernon Hamlin, who served in the Army during World War I in France. Vernon was assigned to the 21st Engineers, Company F, and would go on to earn three gold war service chevrons. He was discharged in 1919. His papers note his "excellent" character and no absences from duty.
Harold served as a signalman 2nd class aboard USS Wren, which participated in the bombardment of Kurabu Zaki and Matsuwa in the Kurile Islands north of Japan. It was later assigned "picket duty", surrounding, with other destroyers, Okinawa and keeping watch for Japanese suicide planes. Wren was about half a mile from USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when the peace treaty ending World War II was signed.
And he knew about his son, Gerald, who served as a hospital corpsman 2nd class in the Navy. He served as an operating room technician at the base in Edzell, Scotland.
In the midst of all Harold’s effort, his grandson, Timothy Hamlin, joined the Navy, in which he served from 1995--1999. He earned the rank of quartermaster 2nd class aboard USS Hewitt.
Though Harold’s uncertain whether his family tree will continue to extend its military roots into future generations, he was happy to uncover the branches he found.
"I was just real proud of the fact that that many were involved in the history of our country," he said.