MARLBORO — Richard Henry Hamilton, a World War II veteran who co-managed the Skyline Restaurant for nearly five decades, is about to turn 100.
Marcia Hamilton, one of Hamilton’s four daughters, said the birthday coming up on Wednesday is a big deal for her father. For many years, he has kept Psalm 91 memorized and can still recite it today.
“In it, at the end, it says that he will honor God with long life,” Marcia said.
On Saturday, the family held a birthday celebration for Hamilton. They provided Vermont News & Media with a timeline of his life and more.
Hamilton was born in Brattleboro in 1922. He lived in a multigenerational household on a farm, which did not get wired for electricity until the mid 1940s and is still in use today, and graduated from Academy School and Brattleboro High School.
His father died at the age of 38 after contracting pneumonia and measles. Hamilton was 6 at the time.
His mother took in four German Jewish refugee teenagers for two summers. They helped with farm chores, and Hamilton became lifelong friends with one of them, who moved to Washington.
“Because of the distance, they kept in touch by mail until he died a few years ago,” the timeline states.
In 1939, at the age of 17, Hamilton bagged his first buck. He was a member of the Future Farmers of America. He also was part of a group in charge of selling concessions at high school football games and the Harris Hill Ski Jump.
During his senior year, he held a job as a laborer at Eastern States Farmers Exchange in Brattleboro. He handled 100-pound bags of grain and made deliveries to farms in the area for 40 cents an hour.
In 1941, he had earned enough money from his own poultry business to buy a second-hand Ford convertible for $700.
“That car was his pride and joy,” the timeline states.
Hamilton drove to pick up Joyce White for dates. She later became his wife.
Hamilton was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and participated in a yearlong training to be part of a B-17 crew, as a radio operator.
“During the crew’s ninth mission over Germany to strike Leipzig’s industrial plants, enemy fire from behind shot up his plane,” the timeline states. “Four crew members were killed in action, and the remaining five bailed out of the burning plane into enemy territory.”
After being captured, Hamilton spent 10 months in a German prison camp. He and the prison camp members were forced to march for 77 days in the winter with little protective clothing, hygiene, food or water.
“As the Russians advanced, the German guards melted away, and the prisoners became displaced persons, advancing to the American lines in France,” the timeline states. Hamilton “made it to safety on foot and was taken to a hospital where he stayed for two weeks. [He] returned to Brattleboro.”
In a speech given in 2008, Hamilton said he was “liberated by two Russians on horseback who were as happy to see me as I was them.”
“I came home from WWII on July 8, 1945, on a rest and recuperation leave of 60 days,” he said. “Joyce and I were married August 8, 1945. Many years later, after our four daughters were married, we realized what we had done to her mother with only a month’s notice to be ready for our wedding.”
Harold P. White, Hamilton’s father-in-law and insurance and real estate salesman, began buying property at what became known as Hogback Mountain Enterprises in the 1920s. Richard and Joyce were the second couple to ride the T-bar up the ski area in the 1940s.
The couple ran the Skyline Restaurant on Hogback starting in 1947, while Joyce’s siblings were put in charge of the gift and ski shops on Hogback. Skyline Restaurant became Richard and Joyce’s “whole social life,” Marcia said.
Hamilton attended Fannie Farmer’s Cooking School in Boston, which the G.I. Bill covered, to inform the effort.
“That was a blessing,” he said in an interview.
He recalled how the Skyline menu initially included grimace cakes, sausage and pure maple syrup. Later, waffles and bacon were introduced.
On Monday, Hamilton had received three birthday cards from former employees. He said the restaurant must have been “a good place to work.”
In 1993, Hogback Mountain Enterprises was sold, but the couple stayed on for 90 days to help with the transition of ownership. They had served the public in the food service industry at the Skyline Restaurant, Alpenglo ski lodge and Quonset Hut snack bar at Hogback for more than 48 years. The restaurant is now home to Beer Naked Brewery.
Hamilton served as a Select Board member, tax collector, justice of the peace and School Board member in Marlboro in the 1940s and ‘50s. He also was on a special committee looking at whether to build a union school in Brattleboro.
Hamilton is “calm” and “sensible” as a father, Marcia said. He taught her to be responsible with money. The children also grew up going to the Congregational Church in Marlboro.
Through the 1990s and early 2000s, Hamilton showed his Model A Ford in the Fourth of July Wardsboro Street Fair Parade.
“He accumulated many ribbons that were awarded by the judges during those times,” the timeline states.
In 2012, the vehicle was used on a movie set in Guilford for Jay Craven’s “Northern Borders,” starring Bruce Dern. Over the years, Hamilton has stayed involved in a vintage car group.
Joyce White died from glioblastoma in the brain in 2005. She was 79.
The COVID-19 pandemic kept Hamilton close to home for a couple of years. He continues to enjoy mowing the lawn and currently serves as the commander of the Vermont Chapter of American Ex Prisoners of War.
The American Legion Post 5 in Brattleboro is inviting veterans to come with a guest to a complimentary meal to celebrate Hamilton’s birthday at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Kristopher Radder contributed to this report.