- Posted June 6, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Your World War II memorabilia
Graduated in time to hit Utah Beach
b. 23 February 1919, d. 30 November 2013
Ralph was a son, a faithful husband, a father to Mary Lee and me, a grandfather, a great grandfather, and an American hero. As we celebrate his life, these are only a few events from his time with us. I trust these anecdotes will add to your memories as we all honor him.
Dad was a first generation American. His father, William John Hampton, was born in Toronto, Canada, shortly after the family emigrated from the Isle of Man. Among seven brothers, John was the only one to come to the “Lower 48.” He settled in Champaign, Illinois, where he met and married Bertha Pearl Cappis. John became the sheep and cattle foreman for the University of Illinois at Champaign. John and Bertha had two boys at the same time. Dad and his brother, Randall, were fraternal twins. Dad said he got his toughness from the Capis side of the family.
I remember one of the stories told about them. He and Randal used to chase the electric streetcars and pull the boom off of the overhead power line. As the trolley coasted to a stop with the conductor shouting at the boys, they ran merrily off and away. I asked dad this past October if the story was true. With a grin he acknowledged it was. He grew up during the Great Depression and used to tell us how he and Randall grew strawberries and sold them for 25¢ a quart. His work ethic was something to be admired and emulated.
He was the first Hampton to attend college. He graduated from the University of Illinois (Champaign) just in time to make the “Great Camp Out” on Utah Beach on D‐Day. At a time when the life expectancy of a Field Artillery Forward Observer, from the time he jumped off the landing craft until the time he almost made it to the beach was about 11 seconds, dad landed on 6 June 1944 and was in combat for 271 days.
He fought through the hedgerows. He was in the Battle of the Bulge. He liberated Paris. He was in the Hürtgen Forest, a battle so fierce that the Germans called it the Schlacht im Hürtgenwald, the “Slaughter in the Hürtgen Forest.“
I asked dad to what he attributed his survival. He answered simply, “To God’s grace and the fact that I could locate myself instantly within 10 metres on a map.” His answer pointed many, as well as me, to God and His care of our lives. His bravery and loyalty to his brothers‐in‐arms was noted in military reports.
Ralph was knighted for valor on the battle field three times; twice by France with the Fourragère avec Palme, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourrag%C3%A8re) and again by Belgium with the Croix de Guerre, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croix_de_guerre_%28Belgium%29).
As a knight, he could be addressed as Lieutenant Colonel SIR Ralph Winfield Hampton. As a teen, I remember seeing his awards on his uniform. The Fourragère was a red and green cord worn around his shoulder; the Croix de Guerre was a magnificent cross, worn around his neck on a ribbon.
I did not fully appreciate what he had done to earn them until I was in my forties when I requested a Cold War Medal for him after the Soviet Union collapsed. He gave me a copy of his military record (DD Form 214) that was necessary to show he had helped bring down the Soviet Union. For the first time I saw on his record that he was awarded the rank of “Chevalier,” Knight.
“Dad,” I said, “you were knighted!” “Oh, yeah,” he replied, “I only did what I had to do.” Dad was a humble man. He reminded me that, “Those who rest on their laurels wear them in the wrong place.” He was a man of honor, his word was his bond. He was instrumental in saving Rothenburg ob der Tauber (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothenburg_ob_der_Tauber). This was one of 3 the places he was excited to take us when we lived in Germany during the occupation.
Ralph was an honorable man. Even during the past year his role in attempting to negotiate the city’s surrender troubled him. As the Allies closed in on Rothenburg, he led a delegation through the lines under a white flag. He presented surrender terms to the Nazi Commander, Major Thömmes: If the Nazi forces would open the city and surrender to the Americans, the ancient walled city would not be shelled by artillery.
Major Thömmes replied that he did not have the authority to accept such terms but if dad would return in 24 hours, he would have an answer. Dad and the delegation returned to their lines about midnight and gave their report. A few hours later, the Americans received orders to advance on Rothenburg. While the Major Thömmes had not yet received authority to surrender, he knew the Americans wanted to spare the city.
He quickly surrendered, disobeying Adolph Hitler’s command to hold till the end, and the city was saved from complete destruction. Nevertheless, dad still felt the sting of having been unable to complete his agreement with the Nazi Commander. He had not been able to wait 24 hours and return.
When I entered active duty, he sternly counseled me that my word was my bond, that my signature was a guarantee of accuracy and fidelity. Thank you, dad, men like you are few and far between. We think of you every time we visit Germany and Rothenburg.
After the war, dad worked for United States Steel in Pittsburgh until he was recalled to active duty for the Korean War. He and mother decided that if they were to be recalled to active duty each time there was a war, each time that he began to climb the ladder of private sector success, then he/they might as well remain on active duty.
Ultimately he served 28 years in the Army as a Field Artillery Officer. He served:
• In Germany during the post war occupation
• At Fort Hood, Texas
• In Taiwan, as a Military Assistance Advisor Group (MAAG) member to the National Chinese Army. He almost started an international incident by returning fire when the Communist Chinese 4 shelled Taiwan! He wryly commented that the ChiComms never shelled the island again while he was there.
• In Vicenza, Italy, as an Honest John Missile Battalion Commander
• At Fort Monroe, Virginia, as Comptroller, Army Training & Doctrine Command
After retiring from active military duty, he continued to serve the United States and soldiers as a Department of Army Civilian (DAC) employee. As a DAC, he was the principal author of ROTC Military History text and, ultimately, was the Deputy Director of the Enlisted Supply Branch at Fort Lee, Virginia.
He was a selfless servant. Even after retiring a second time he served the community as a volunteer crisis counselor, a member of multiple fraternal service organizations, supported various ministries to Native Americans and US soldiers, and faithfully attended the Family of God Church. He once quipped that had he known how busy he would be after retirement, he might have kept his day job.
Thank you, dad, for your life‐long example of care and service. Let me personalize two more memories. The time in Germany during the occupation brings two of my dearest memories with dad to mind:
1. He sang “The Old Rugged Cross” to me at bedtime as a youngster. This simple statement of life, death, and salvation by Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross is a testimony to his faith in our Risen Savior. The words for this hymn are included below on the last page.
2. We went camping with the Cub Scouts in Hanau, Germany. I remember setting up the two shelter halves to make a pup tent. We dug a trench around it so no rainwater would flow into the tent. The next morning, with the sound of gentle rain on the tent, I felt warm and secure next to my dad. The damp and wet outside would not intrude. The security of knowing my dad had provided later transferred to my understanding that our Heavenly Father protects us and provides for our needs. We are safe beneath His wings (Psalm 36:7).
In Matthew 25:14 and following, Jesus tells the parable of the master leaving on a trip. He leaves talents with his servants for them to use productively during