Today’s Washington Post has a gracious obituary of Lt. Col. John Hillen Jr., the father of our good friend and writer, John III. The self-named “Old Man Hillen” (we had the pleasure of OMH’s company a few years back on an NR cruise) was a man’s man: a tough, bright, funny, and down-to-earth former Army Ranger and Green Beret. One January day some 40 years ago day, the then-Major found himself above the earth. So reads his citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism, won
while participating in aerial flight evidenced by voluntary action above and beyond the call of duty in the Republic of Vietnam on 27 January 1970. Major Hillen distinguished himself while serving as an aerial observer aboard an OH-6A command and control helicopter during an air reconnaissance mission in the vicinity of Tram Thien River, Phong Dien District, Republic of Vietnam. Major Hillen spotted movement in a treeline below his aircraft and directed the insertion of infantry troops into the suspected area. He then ordered the pilot of his helicopter to descend to a level where the ground troops could be assisted with the craft’s spotlight and marking fire directed at the enemy position. As the ground unit was closing in on the hostile area, the enemy fired upon the command and control aircraft, seriously wounding Major Hillen. Despite his wounds, Major Hillen continued to direct the helicopter’s fire until he lost consciousness. Major Hillen’s personal bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
That’s just part of the reason why his son refers to him as “a guy with a résumé of Hector and Achilles.” This July, we were going to spend a glorious ten days on the looming NR voyage with OMH and his (correctly described) “Lovely Bride,” Lisa. I know he was eagerly anticipating it. The best laid plans . . . It’s some consolation to know he is in a far more glorious place, deservedly, and that he has joined brothers in arms who went before him, too soon, so that we may live in freedom. Would that the phrase “thank you” sufficiently expressed our appreciation for their bravery and sacrifices. Rest in peace OMH, and to Mrs. Hillen, John, and their families who rightly mourn (“Jesus wept.”) know that you are in our thoughts and prayers.