By: SSgt Erik Cardenas, DPAA
Bill Hill didn’t want his son Billy to go to war in Vietnam, but the need to keep his younger brother Bobby safe was too strong for his eldest son.
“Billy was afraid Bobby would go to Vietnam and get himself killed, and it turned out to be just the opposite,” said Hill.
On Jan. 21, 1968, Sgt. 1st Class Billy D. Hill, assigned to the 282nd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade in his second tour to Vietnam, volunteered to be the door-gunner in the lead helicopter on a mission to Khe Sanh transporting South Vietnamese soldiers into the advisory headquarters. As the helicopters approached the landing zone, the lead helicopter was shot down by a rocket propelled grenade. Hill was believed to have died in the initial attack and was declared missing in action shortly after.
Nearly 57 years after that fateful day, Billy Hill’s remains were recovered and identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Billy Hill was then returned to his family and buried at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, Killeen, Texas, where nearly 1,000 mourners came to honor him.
“It’s been a long time,” said Dick Messer, a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2. “I was there that day, flying, and saw all the action going on. Just to have him back is pretty special.”
Billy Hill was buried on what would have been his 69th birthday. And though his father said the ceremony did not provide him closure over his son’s death, it was at least one last opportunity to celebrate his birthday and who he was as a man.
“It’s something I never expected in my entire life,” said Bill Hill. “I figured I’d be dead and gone before they found him.”
Luckily Bill Hill was proven wrong on his assumption of never seeing his son return home. Already 91 years old at the time of his son’s funeral, he did not have much more time to wait. Five days after his son was laid to rest, Bill Hill passed away in Gatesville, Texas.
“I was very proud that he served; he was a gung-ho soldier,” said Bill Hill.