Howard Britton Hamilton – Colonel, United States Army

From a press report: Wednesday, December 02, 1998

Howard Britton Hamilton, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, got on the path to his life's work the hard way.

Mr. Hamilton, 75, who died Saturday at UPMC St. Margaret of complications following surgery, had a close brush with death during World War II.

On his 22nd mission as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, his B-17 was hit on October 10, 1943, by enemy fire, wounding him badly, including puncturing his lung. He lost consciousness and regained it only to have his parachute pack strap catch on the door handle, leaving him dangling as the plane was going down in a spin. He didn't have enough strength to free himself, but his co-pilot risked his life to set him free.

Mr. Hamilton landed in a tree and was captured by the Germans. He was taken to a hospital where he lay on a stretcher for 12 hours until an officer in charge of prisoners of war begged the one lone surgeon to treat him because he would die before morning otherwise.

Thus began more than a year in captivity, initially in a hospital and then to Stalag Luft on the Baltic Sea. His camp was liberated by the Russians on May 1, 1945.

Mr. Hamilton hadn't been much of a student or applied himself in high school. But in the POW camp, he read everything he could get, literature and history, much of it provided by the Red Cross.

“He read a lot and decided he wanted to make something better of himself,” said his son, Stephen, of Hickory, N.C.

He went to college on the GI bill.

Mr. Hamilton graduated in 1949 from the University of Oklahoma where he was named one of the 10 outstanding men of the year. He earned a master's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1955 and a doctorate from Oklahoma State in 1962. All three degrees were in electrical engineering.

His employment included working for General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., serving as unit chief of manufacturing research for Boeing Aircraft Co. in Wichita, Kansas, and as professor and chairman of the electrical engineering department at the University of Wichita.

In the 1960s, he helped to set up a doctoral program in electrical engineering at the Universidad Tecnica de Santa Maria in Valparaiso, Chile.

He joined the University of Pittsburgh in 1966 as chairman of the electrical engineering department, a post he held until 1973. He was a professor of engineering at Pitt from 1973 to 1986. In the year before his retirement, he served as acting chairman of the department.

He was active in the Institute of Electronics and Engineers, including serving on the organization's board. He was named a fellow by the IEEE “for contributions to electrical machinery and applications of power systems technology.”

James T. Cain, associate professor of electrical engineering at Pitt, said Mr. Hamilton was a “long-time contributor to the profession” and that he inspired loyalty in the students he worked with on their individual research.

Mr. Hamilton, who was born in Augusta, Kansas, lied about his age to get into the service. The fact that he was only 17 wasn't discovered until he completed basic training. He left the service and then returned at age 18, this time commissioned as a second lieutenant.

In 1943, he married Geraldine Karr Hamilton, who worked at the Army Air Base in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was being trained as a bombardier on a B-17.

The German officer who begged for him to be treated and Mr. Hamilton didn't forget each other.

The officer looked him up after reading a book about the raid, and the Hamiltons visited him in Germany, and he visited them here in recent years.

He also attended regular reunions of his wartime buddies and was active in the Military Order of the World Wars.

After the war, Mr. Hamilton joined the reserves, later retiring as a colonel.

Mr. Hamilton's work was his passion, said his son.

Even after he retired, he continued to go to his office at the University of Pittsburgh every day.

He also worked as a consulting engineer, sometimes testifying as an expert witness in court cases involving electrocutions or malfunctioning machinery.

In addition to his wife and their son Stephen, he is survived by two other sons, John V. of Bethel Park and Christopher H. of Germantown, Md., a daughter, Jana Hamilton Gruber of August, Ga.; three brothers, Clinton of Manhattan, Kan., Robert of Alamo, Calif., and John of Topeka, Kan.; a sister, Dolores Hamilton McIntosh of Buffalo, Kan.

Friends will be received from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow and 10 a.m. to noon Friday at English Funeral Home, 380 Maryland Ave., Oakmont.

Funeral Mass will be at noon at St. Irenaeus Catholic Church, 385 Maryland Ave., Oakmont.

Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

The family suggests donations to the “Howard B. Hamilton Scholarship Fund” of the electrical engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh, 240 Benedum Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261.


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 10/10/1942 – 01/01/1965
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 10/28/1923
  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/28/1998
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 12/14/1998

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment