The son of Brigadier General John G. Hill Sr. ’24 and Selma L. Hill, John G. Hill Jr. was born Aug 9, 1926, in Plattsburg, NY. His father was an imposing and charismatic man who quickly inspired in his son the desire to follow in his footsteps. At an early age, John Jr. knew that he wanted to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. He fulfilled his aspiration, becoming a proud member of the Class of 1946 as a cadet in Company C-2.
"When I think of John Hill, I think of the word ‘determination.’ He never gave into others who might try to slow down his desire to become a first rate Army officer." —Calvin "Hap" Arnold, classmate and roommate
John graduated at age 19 in the top five percent of his class and commissioned Infantry as a second lieutenant. Early in his service, his qualities of leadership and devotion to duty marked him as one destined for the top of his profession. He was a close student of military history and a well-read scholar. He was a man of great moral courage and honor. He understood people and cared genuinely for their welfare. And, most of all, he had a passion for excellence.
He served on active duty for 32 years. His initial assignment was Germany. While still in Europe, he also served as an advisor to the Royal Hellenic Forces engaged in Greece’s civil war.
In 1950, he volunteered for Korea and served with the 7th Cavalry Regiment. He participated in some of the fiercist fighting of the war, earning the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star for heroism, as well as a battlefield promotion to major.
HILL, JOHN GILLESPIE [Lt DSC 7thCR]
Hill, John G., Jr. [Capt SS CO E7thCR]
Next, he served as Assistant Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Boston University, where he also obtained his master’s in international relations. Re-assigned to Germany, he commanded the 2nd Armored Rifle Battalion, 36th Infantry, followed by a tour at the Pentagon and duty as the military assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
In 1964, he reported to Vietnam for the first of two tours, serving as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army. After a brief return to Washington DC, and attendance at the Army’s Rotary Wing Flight School, he again reported to Vietnam to command the 1st Brigade (Separate) of the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division, located at Quang Tri. He also served as Assistant Division Commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) and Commanding General, U.S. Army Support Command, Cam Ranh Bay. Just prior to departing Vietnam the second time, he was chosen by John Paul Vann to serve as Vann’s deputy commanding general at the Battle of Kontum. His contributions to the victory at Kontum are mentioned prominently in Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie. While in Vietnam, he earned a Distinguished Service Medal, a Distinguished Flying Cross and his second Legion of Merit. In 1973, he was personally selected by the Army Chief of Staff, General Creighton Abrams, to head the U.S. Military Training Mission to Saudi Arabia. His last assignment was as the Deputy Corps Commander, III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas.
To the end, he felt deepest affinity with those units and soldiers he served with in battle—the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division and the 1st Brigade of the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division and the 101st Airmobile Division. His greatest concern was always for the welfare of the soldiers with whom he served. Many of them remained lifelong friends and admirers.
"He was intensely smart…he had stick-to-itiveness…a great sense of humor…he was proud to be a soldier…he made lifelong friends and lived life fully…he was a great leader without vanity…he was gutsy, hard-driven…reserved but not boastful…he enjoyed a great reputation and earned every bit of respect bestowed upon him." —Ted Montague, classmate and roommate
After John retired from the Army in 1978, he attended law school at the University of Texas at Austin, earning his JD three years later. He established a private practice that grew steadily over the next 14 years, until John’s deteriorating health forced it closed. John also pursued his passions, which were flying his Mooney, reading good books, and traveling.
John was followed in death by his wife of 46 years, Elizabeth Leslie Hill, daughter of Colonel Ralph E. Tibbetts ’25 and Elizabeth L. Tibbetts. E. Leslie, as she was known, passed away in October 2011. They are survived by three sons and two grandchildren.
By every measure, John’s was a life well lived—a life that was full and deeply satisfying. John laughed heartily and never took himself too seriously; he cultivated friendships that lasted a lifetime; he appreciated God’s beauty every day; and he always thought of others in everything he did. He achieved the kind of success Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke about when he wrote:
"To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exaltation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded! "
— R.M. Hill ’78