Tuesday, June 5, 2012

a family mystery

On February 19, 1949, Stephen Hamilton Adams was born.
On March 16, 1968, Stephen Hamilton Adams was killed in the Vietnam War.

He was 19 years old.
He was my uncle.
PFC Stephen Hamilton Adams, U.S. Marine Corps.

The man who my family affectionately referred to as Hambone, died ten years before I was born. I grew up knowing that I had an uncle I'd never meet, that he died very young, that my mom and her other brother had lost a sibling, and my grandmother had lost a son. Through the stories I heard about his much too short life, I can imagine him as a mischievous farm boy, a whip-smart teenager, a troublemaker, and a charmer with a wild streak.

When my brother was born on March 16, 1982 - 14 years to the day after Hambone's death, my parents named him Stephen. In childhood photos of my brother Steve, he is the spitting image of his namesake.

Several years ago, a family friend forwarded a link to a memorial website, and my mother wrote this response: (I printed it out and saved it because it made me cry.)
"Alec and I are still grieving and I think often of the unbearable pain our mother felt yet remained so stoic. Alec was amazing too. I can't remember whether she made him hitchhike home from Charlottesville when we got the bad news, but he was a great source of her strength and as sole surviving son could have opted out of combat. She called herself the dove mother of 2 hawks. My son Stephen was born March 16, 1982--the anniversary of Hambone's death and at various stages of his life has looked very much like his uncle (just as naughty too). I also think of how young you guys (boys really) were to go through such a horrific experience. You are all heroes." 

There's more to the story though...

When my uncle's belongings were returned to my grandmother in 1968, there was an MIT class ring among his personal effects. My uncle didn't go to MIT. Back in the 60s, before the internet and e-mail, there was little chance at finding the rightful owner. My mother recently rediscovered the ring and became determined to solve the mystery and attempt to locate the owner (or more likely the owner's family since it is assumed the owner of the ring may have also died in Vietnam). She contacted MIT and they did some research and made a video about the mystery.
The mystery ring - an MIT Brass Rat found with my uncle's belongings in Vietnam 1968. 
It is engraved with the initials JTM. (Photo via MIT Division of Student Life.)

The MIT class ring features the MIT mascot - a beaver (the engineer of the animal world) and is often referred to as the Brass Rat due to the resemblance of the beaver to a rat. These rings are highly prized among MIT alumni.

MIT did a great job with the video and I am even more intrigued by the mystery now:

While we will probably never know the circumstances that led to the Brass Rat being among my uncle's possessions, I hope that by spreading the word and sharing this video, we can finally find the family of the rightful owner of the ring.

Read more details on MIT's Vietnam Ring Mystery website.


Brandi {not your average ordinary} said...

How interesting! I hope you're able to solve this mystery!

Abby said...

What an interesting story! Thanks for sharing something so personal.

Phoebe Mitchell said...

I'm not certain this is the Hambone I knew as a child. Is/was his mother called Louisa and his father known as Red. If so, some of my fondest memories as a child were playing with him at his family's farm. (Louisa Adams (I called her Aunt Louisa) was my mother's, Maggie Mitchell Rolin's, closest friend for years. Be happy to share what I remember of Hambone and the farm. Phoebe Mitchell