Life

How one UI grad helped 'de-Nazify' Germany's court system after WWII

Former Johnson County judge involved in both World Wars honored by UI

Judy Crockett shows pictures of her father, Clarence Hamilton, taken during World War II. Hamilton left the University of Iowa Law School to serve in the Army as an ambulance driver in France during World War I. For his bravery he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the government of France. Hamilton returned to Iowa to finish his degree and practice law. In 1943, Hamilton again served in the U.S. Army, this time as an attorney. He oversaw the civil courts and prisons in Nuremberg and Bavaria including the de-Nazification of the civil court system following the war. Photographed on November 15, 2018 in the lobby of the Iowa House Hotel in Iowa City. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Judy Crockett shows pictures of her father, Clarence Hamilton, taken during World War II. Hamilton left the University of Iowa Law School to serve in the Army as an ambulance driver in France during World War I. For his bravery he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the government of France. Hamilton returned to Iowa to finish his degree and practice law. In 1943, Hamilton again served in the U.S. Army, this time as an attorney. He oversaw the civil courts and prisons in Nuremberg and Bavaria including the de-Nazification of the civil court system following the war. Photographed on November 15, 2018 in the lobby of the Iowa House Hotel in Iowa City. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — When Judy Crockett woke up on Christmas Day in 1943, her father gave her and her siblings some startling news.

“He told us, as we were running down to the Christmas tree, that he was going to leave that evening to enter the Second World War,” she said.

Crockett’s father, Clarence Hamilton, already was a veteran of World War I, but he returned to the Army to direct the reformation of Germany’s civil court system after the Third Reich’s fall.

Earlier this month, he and six other veterans with UI ties were honored with the Hawkeye Distinguished Veterans Memorial Award, which memorializes their work in the armed forces with a plaque hung in the Memorial Union building. Crockett, now 80 and living in California, accepted the award on behalf of her father.

Hamilton, a Winterset native, was a first-year law student at the UI when he enlisted in the Army as an ambulance driver in France during World War I. The French government later awarded him a Croix de Guerre medal for getting wounded soldiers off the battlefield.

He returned to Iowa after the war, graduating from law school and spending years in private practice, in addition to starting a family that eventually included four children. He later became a county attorney and a special assistant to the Iowa attorney general.

But in 1943, Hamilton rejoined the Army as an attorney to try thousands of civil cases in Bavaria and Nuremberg.

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Crockett didn’t fully grasp the weight of what was happening at the time, but she was close with her father and wasn’t happy that he’d be going to a far-off land.

Before Hamilton left, he gave his children something to remember him by.

“At the time he was leaving, he pinned these oak leaf clusters on our bathrobes, and he told us that was the Army insignia he would have on his uniform,” she said. “We wore those on our dresses and on our nightclothes every day until he returned two and a half years later.”

She still wears that pin when she speaks about her father, 75 years after he pinned it on her.

After two years of specialized training in England, Crockett said Hamilton arrived in Nuremberg on April 20, 1945, on Hitler’s 56th birthday. He spent much of his time organizing his fellow law officers and trying cases himself.

His courtrooms later were used to host the Nuremberg Trials, a series of military tribunals prosecuting what was left of the Nazi hierarchy.

“One of his letters says a colonel approached him and asked, ‘Major, would you consider being one of the judges in the big trials?’ and dad said ‘No, God help me from ever having anything to do with that,’ and the colonel looked at him and said, ‘Major, that’s the smartest thing you will have ever said.’”

Hamilton returned to Iowa City in 1952 and eventually became district court judge in Johnson County from 1960 to 1968, when he was mandated by law to retire at age 75. He died later that year.

Crockett said her father didn’t speak much about what he witnessed during World War II because of the serious crimes he had to adjudicate. She now spends her time telling his story, pieced together through letters he wrote, and helping keep alive the memories of those who served at such a crucial time in human history.

“I think the thing most significant is the World War II Museum in New Orleans wrote me a letter saying the stories of these brave men must be told over and over so no generation ever forgets what they did, and that’s my purpose.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; dan.mika@thegazette.com

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