Am truly saddened to hear one of our old Purple Foxes GySgt. Jack J. Hiltibran has been reported in Taps section of our quarterly Semper Fidelis. Jack was living in Havelock, NC since his retirement in June 1975.
Jack had treatable diabetes and had been collecting compensation from the VA for that and Agent Orange. He had been working at Cherry Point Air Station as a civilian employee and doing well. Quite suddenly, he started having difficulty breathing, was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. His lungs had turned hard and he was unable to breathe. My understanding is it only took a few days for Jack to succumb. At Jack's request, he was cremated and a private memorial service was held, and his remains will one day be placed in the Gulf of Mexico.
I had been holding out hope that our paths would cross again some day. SSgt. Hiltibran was my section leader at LTA Santa Ana and when we first got to Phu Bai, RVN. When I joined HMM-364 in Santa Ana I was a wet behind the ears new guy, fresh out of NAS Memphis. With Jack's patience and guidance I became a CH-46 crew chief. Liked Jack from day one. Always good-natured and fun loving with that huge laugh of his.
One of my favorite memories relates to a "test hop" as the Valley Forge was entering Subic Bay en route to Vietnam. Jack came to me and said, "Hey, TJ, get your plane ready for a test hop. We have to launch while we are still at sea and they will pick us up once the ship leaves port again." With a wink, he said, "You do need a test hop, right?" If my memory serves me correctly there were about 8 or 10 "crew members" on my test hop. Once ashore we didn't have much to do until the ship pulled back out of the harbor. Seems we found the shade of some palm trees and just relaxed. Also believe we relaxed with a couple of cases of the local liquid refreshment. Caught a lot of heat from my squadron buds upon our return. Always felt honored Jack choose me and my aircraft for the "test hop." Believe my aircraft was deemed in the up status upon our return.
Also while checking out of country in DaNang I ran into Jack who was also headed home. Remember Jack had a huge handlebar mustache. Probably 8 inches from tip to tip. When he talked the ends would twitch. The day I ran into him in DaNang it was pouring rain and his mustache was soaked and hanging down past his chin. Was great to see him again and knowing we were both headed home.
Cpl. Thomas J. "TJ" Miller, Purple Fox crew chief '67-'68