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Military book to mark Memorial Day

DIXON — Eight years ago, Beverly Hamel received a phone call that started her on a journey through Lake County’s past. 

An employee at the Missoula Public Library was on the other end of the line, and asked Hamel to take on a project along with some other volunteers. Hamel’s task was to peruse archives of the Ronan Pioneer, the town’s first newspaper, in search of information about Salish history. While she compiled obituaries, birth and marriage announcements, Hamel noticed that many Lake County citizens had served in the military, and started to wonder if locals knew about their families’ military histories.

“I thought, ‘Gosh, it’s a shame to leave all this information,’” Hamel said.

So she didn’t. In fact, when she finished with the Ronan Pioneer, Hamel took her search around the county, combing through every old archive she could find.

“Every town had a newspaper here,” she said. “That’s how I got going, and then I couldn’t quit. I got addicted.”

And there were the cemeteries. Hamel read headstone after headstone, looking for anyone who had served in the armed forces.

“I walked every cemetery and took all the information off every headstone,” Hamel said. “The cemeteries kept me busy for a couple of years.”

She took everything she found in the newspapers and cemeteries— deaths, births, marriages, moves, letters written from soldiers, medals and awards received, etc. — and began compiling an alphabetized reference of all of Lake County’s military.

“Whenever I found someone buried, and they were in a war, I put that war in,” Hamel explained. “If they’re in more than one war, their name will pop up in that war also.”

The book, which Hamel plans to title Courage Not Forgotten in tribute to local servicemen and women, should be complete by Memorial Day. 

“I’ll have to work like a gopher to get it done by then,” Hamel said.

But no time is more fitting to release the book, which Hamel emphasized contains information about all local veterans, regardless of ethnicity.

“I don’t want to differentiate between tribal and white,” she explained. “I’m grateful to all of them for the work that they did, and I don’t want any separation. They were all courageous, every last one.”

Hamel, whose family moved to the Mission Valley in 1944 from Alaska, has always been fascinated by learning people’s stories and what brought them out west. She also had six or eight uncles who served in the military, and feels that her project is a way of saying “Thank you” to them and other local veterans.

“If I don’t save (these records) now, they won’t be saved,” she said.

Thanks to Hamel’s efforts, and her decision to pay to publish the book herself, local libraries will soon be able to share valuable records with the public that simply aren’t available anywhere else. When Hamel finished gathering records for the Missoula Public Library, she self-published a book called Senyelemen (gathering) of Sacred Records of the Sqelix (people) — a historical compiling of the vital records of the people of Lake County and lower Sanders County. She had 100 copies of the volume printed — a cost of several thousand dollars — and sold 98. This time around, Hamel said she’ll print just a few copies of Courage Not Forgotten, because “this is more of a book that you look at in the library.

“I’m not rich, but it doesn’t matter. I want to do this. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it ... well, that’s a lie,” Hamel said, smiling.

Sure the work is sometimes tedious, but Hamel said it’s worth it for the experience and knowing she’s providing people access to a wealth of information. 

“I’ve got material for about six small books on the Reservation homesteaders,” she added. “The history’s so interesting here.”

And she certainly found some fascinating facts over the last eight years.

“One guy in Ronan was a chauffeur for (Gen. George) Patton,” she noted. “(And) I think the Matts have the most people in the war.”

While Hamel is drawing ever closer to her self-imposed deadline for finishing the project, she’s still looking for help from the public to ensure that her book contains as complete a military history of Lake County as possible. Hamel can be reached at 246-3205, and information about an individual who served in the military should be submitted in a form comparable to an obituary.

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