Remembering a local hero

Scott Hamilton stands under the banner dedicated to his son on the front porch of his home. Scott said he kisses the banner every day when he leaves for work. Photo by Matt Hafley.

Rachel Jones

When Adam Hamilton walked into a room, everybody took notice.

“He was definitely the life of the party,” said Scott Hamilton, Adam’s father. “He just had this charismatic personality. And when he left the room, everyone was smiling and a better person because of it.”

According to the Department of Defense, the Kent native was killed in Haji Ruf, Afghanistan, by an improvised explosive device on May 28.

But Adam is still having a major effect on the lives of the people who knew him.

“Everybody loved Adam,” said family friend Mary Nemec. “He had an electric personality, and you connected immediately.”

Because of his last name, Adam’s friends nicknamed him “Ham.”

“If they were going out at night to do something really fun everyone would say, ‘We’re going out Ham style!’” Scott said. “His buddies used to tease him because he was a pretty good looking kid and did OK with girls. They’d say, ‘We know if we’re going out with Ham, there will be girls – But he’ll get them all anyway.’”

Adam didn’t mind the playful teasing and would always stand up for his friends. Scott said Adam was known for being the protector.

During his sophomore year at Theodore Roosevelt High School, Adam and his classmates were shocked and angry when a student from another high school dressed up like Scooby-Doo and crashed their pep rally.

“Here comes Adam out of the stands,” Scott said with a laugh, “and he beat up the kid! Now, was he wrong? Yes. But you look back on it now, and that was his way of protecting his turf.”

Adam brought the same passion and physicality by focusing on sports, lettering in football, hockey and lacrosse.

Playing as a wide receiver and linebacker, Adam’s football team made it to the state championship playoffs. As an individual, Adam set state and school records in hockey and was named All-American and Northeastern Ohio Offensive Player of the Year in lacrosse.

John Nemec, football coach at Theodore Roosevelt High School, said Adam was a great competitor.

“He was a gifted, natural athlete,” John Nemec said. “He was a leader on the field, and all the kids respected how hard he played.”

After graduating in 2007, Adam set off to play D-I lacrosse in Maryland, but he left early and joined the military.

“He called me and said it just wasn’t for him, and he wanted to join the Army. I didn’t understand it at the time, and I still don’t understand it,” Scott explained. “Basically it was Adam’s way of saying he wanted to be on the ultimate team.”

As he did in high school, Adam became a leader of the “ultimate team,” working as a cavalry scout/sniper.

“They are considered the baddest of the bad,” Scott said. “Only 10 percent of military personnel see action, and Adam was in the smallest of smallest groups that guaranteed he was going to see action. He was the absolute first part, so if (the enemy) wanted to get to any other troops, they had to go through his first.”

The Nemecs went to a going away party at the Hamilton’s house before Adam left for Afghanistan.

“It was very sad because I knew he was putting himself in harm’s way,” John Nemec said, “but those kids in the military are some of the best we have in the country. They unselfishly give themselves up so we can have our freedoms. It’s the greatest act you can do.”

Scott said Adam was happy being a soldier and had a great willingness and desire to get deployed.

“Adam was born a solider,” he said. “He didn’t become one.”

He wanted to stay and help the needy children in Afghanistan, but the war was so extreme, Adam decided he would not re-enlist.

During his tour, Mary and other friends took to their Facebook pages to see updates Scott posted on Adam’s current statuses.

After three months in Afghanistan, his Facebook friends saw the status they feared the most.

On May 28, Adam led his troop on a mission into a building that was booby-trapped with IEDs. The soldiers tried to get out of the building, but Adam knew he had to get in further to get his troops to safety.

“He took it upon himself to do that for the safety of others,” Scott said. “He’s the absolute definition of a hero.”

An IED exploded before Adam could exit. He died from the wounds.

When the news made it back to Kent, a group of former classmates organized a candlelit vigil at the high school football stadium to honor Adam.

“It was put together at the last minute, but I’m guessing 500 people showed up,” John said. “It shows you the impact he had on others.”

Scott said about 3,000 people came to the high school gymnasium to pay their respects to Adam, and 1,400 people attended the funeral.

“It was unreal,” Scott said. “(The viewing) lasted about seven hours with a 45-minute to hour wait for each person. It was like a celebrity’s funeral.”

Today, Kent residents are still paying their respects to their fallen soldier.

“There are so many people doing so many things; it’s amazing,” Scott said. “It’s pretty honorable. Hurts like hell, but still honorable.”

The Kent State Ice Arena is putting No. 13, Adam’s number in high school, in the ice this year.

The Theodore Roosevelt High School football players has “A.H.” on the backs of their helmets in memory of Adam. The team even framed the white No. 9 and the red No. 9 jersey Adam wore in 2006 and presented them to his parents during a ceremony before the home opener Aug. 26.

“John didn’t want to retire his jersey because he wanted to keep the memory of Adam going,” Mary Nemec said. “Just think of the kids who would want to wear Adam’s number.”

The jersey dedication was followed by a moment of silence. But Mary Nemec said the most moving part happened after Theodore Roosevelt’s first touchdown.

“What was amazing was the first kid who scored was No. 9!” Mary said. “Adam’s definitely taking care of things from heaven.”

The Hamiltons are memorializing Adam by granting one female and one male student each a $10,000 scholarship.

“Since Adam was such a giving person, it was a really easy decision for me to start a scholarship fund at the high school,” Scott said. “I consider the money we get for Adam dirty, and it disgusts me to receive it. One beneficial use was to start the Adam S. Hamilton Memorial Academic and Athletic Scholarship fund that will feed the scholarship.”

The family also bought warm-ups and jerseys for the high school’s football, hockey, boy’s lacrosse, girl’s field hockey and girl’s lacrosse teams. The clothes have American flag patches with Adam’s name underneath.

Although Scott said it’s hard to do things like that because it can be a reminder of Adam’s passing, he is overwhelmed that he lives in such a supportive community.

“It’s amazing just how many people he has touched,” Scott said. “He did so much in such a little time. He really, really had an impact on things.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].