Ralph Eugene Hamilton (1918-1999) was born on September 22, 1918, in Malin, Oregon, where his father, Edward, farmed alfalfa. Eventually, his mother, Nell, inherited some land on Signal Hill near Long Beach from her father, Clarence Coseboom, so the family moved there, and in the 1920s Ralph enrolled in the Southern California Military Academy (SCMA), a private and excellent school. After attending the SCMA, Ralph joined the Navy, but when war seemed inevitable, he decided to become a combat pilot since he’d learned to fly biplanes when he was 15. He would eventually pilot P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs in combat against Germany.
After being shot down by ground fire, he spent the last few months of World War Two in a German prison camp fighting
boredom, hunger, dysentery, and bedbugs. Ralph never volunteered stories about the war, and seldom talked about it, which I think is true for many who experienced intense combat.
After the war ended, Ralph fished salmon commercially in Alaska. In the 1950s he graduated from the University of Southern California and started teaching 6th grade in Bellflower, California. In the early 1960s he got a Master’s Degree in Art from Long Beach State, studying painting and sculpture under the Hungarian artist Francis D’Erdley. Cartooning was a skill he developed later in life, mostly to amuse me.
I wrote a book about Ralph’s war experiences, Be All You Can Be, for my son who was born less than a year after Ralph’s death. The book’s title and cover art come from an antiwar cartoon Ralph drew. “Be All You Can Be” was the US Army’s recruiting slogan for about 20 years. It shows that Ralph did not fit the mold of the dutifully patriotic and obediently apolitical soldier.
From the back cover of Be All You Can Be, Ralph had this to say about draft-dodging:
“There is something sad about a person who blindly sacrifices his life ‘for his country,’ for he is unaware of the real issues. If a person can grasp the truth about war, it can’t help but color his thinking on such issues as draft dodging. The name draft dodger suggests the evasion of a just debt or obligation. In reality, a draft dodger is either a person who rejects military service on religious or moral grounds–or plainly doesn’t want to allow himself to be killed. Any of those reasons should be good enough, and I don’t think that he should be persecuted or prosecuted. Unfortunately, the multitude cannot, or will not, understand that wars are fought for the protection of vested interests.
A person who is willing to sacrifice his life ‘for his country’ is merely a dupe in the profit game of the military-industrial complex. A man who has the courage to stand up against such twisted idealism and refuse to be sacrificed for profiteers–is no coward. My opinion of the draft dodger probably differs from the opinion of many of my peers, but then, my generation is probably one of the biggest collections of fools on record.”