My father, 1st Lt. Albert Randall Hamilton Jr., was an F-86 Sabre Jet pilot. He was a member of the 36th Fighter Bomber Squadron during the Korean War.
He was one of 129 men killed in the crash of a C124 (Globemaster) at Tachikawa, Japan, on June 18, 1953. I was 18 months old.
The Internet has a lot of sights that refer to the crash and to the F-86 pilots who flew in Korea and Vietnam.
Most sites have a comments section, and I've left messages, asking for information from people who either flew with my dad or knew him, and I've received several responses. One man who bunked right next to him has retired to Honey Grove, and we plan to get together for dinner as soon as possible.
Connecting with these men and hearing their stories has given me a lot of memories — and peace.
Last Friday night, however, I was completely blown out of the water when I answered the phone and a man said, after confirming he was actually talking to Terry Hamilton Mathews, "I was there the day your father died."
The man was prompted to call after seeing a post I made at the Korean War Project's site. He said he had never talked about the day of the crash to anyone, even his wife of 54 years — until last week.
The man, now 73 and living in Las Cruces, N.M., was an 18-year-old Air Force policeman who was dropping someone off at the Tachikawa airport.
He said he was at the crash scene within five minutes of the impact. He said it was the most horrific experience of his life.
"When we realized it was going to be a recovery, not a rescue, everyone fell to their knees," he said.
He said he has used the Internet to find the names of men killed that day.
"I printed out a list and have said a prayer for every one of them."
He said he doesn't sleep well. He said he doesn't have nightmares anymore, but he still wakes up every couple of hours.
We talked for about 30 minutes. He was very kind, and at the end, he said he was glad he had picked up the phone.
"It was very hard for me to call, really hard," he said. "But I read your comment and cried, and knew I had to speak to you."
While he might not have been able to do anything at that crash site on June 18, 1953, on March 20, 2009, Kirby Prickett changed two lives – for the better.
I spoke with Mr. Prickett again on Sunday. He said he felt better and thought it was finally time to tell his children the story.
He said he still didn't sleep well, but he did not wake up thinking about "that little girl who was missing her daddy."
Never pass up a chance to do a kindness for another. You never know whose heart you’ll heal.
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