Quest For A Medal Of Honor

By DAVID OWENS
The Hartford Courant

November 01, 2000

There is no doubt that Robert Tillquist was a hero. As a 23-year-old Army medic in Vietnam, the Branford native saved two wounded comrades and used his body to shield a third from an enemy machine gunner.

He died of his wounds, but the men of the 1st Air Cavalry Division who witnessed his heroics did not forget him. A few months after his body was returned to Connecticut for burial, the Army posthumously awarded Tillquist the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest decoration for heroism in combat.

"I've thought about him every day," said Graham J. Avera, 66,who led Tillquist into combat Nov. 4, 1965. "When his full measure was called upon he gave his life to save three people. It's probably more than we can expect of an individual. I get choked up when I think about it."

Avera has joined with Tillquist's sister, Jean Risley, 60, of Coventry, who has been working three years to have her brother receive the nation's highest award for gallantry in combat: the Medal of Honor.

Avera, who retired a lieutenant colonel after 22 years in the army and now lives in Pensacola, Fla., said there is no doubt in his mind that Tillquist qualifies.

"There are soldiers who get the medal for jumping on hand grenades," Avera said. "This guy pulled two people from gunfire ... and he gave his life trying to get a third."

Risley, who has enlisted the assistance of the state's two senators, said she only recently began to learn about her brother's service and death in Vietnam. It was one of three tragedies her family suffered in short succession: Her infant son died of crib death, Tillquist was killed, then a few months later her father died of a heart attack.

When her brother's body was returned, there was no wake and the family did not view the body.

"I just kind of thought for years he wasn't dead," she said. Then she went to Washington, to the Vietnam memorial. "I went to the Vietnam wall and saw his name there ... he was really there."

She had remembered hearing about how her brother had died a hero, saving three soldiers.

Using the Internet, she sought out veterans who might have known her brother, who served in B Company, 2nd Batallion, 12th Cavalry of the 1st Air Cavalry Division. She ran an advertisement in the 1st Air Cav newsletter.

"Shortly thereafter I got a call from [Avera]," she said. He told her how, during a battle west of Plei Me, her brother braved withering fire to crawl to the aid of two wounded soldiers, dragging them to safety, then went after a third who had fallen near an enemy machine gun position.

"When he went back to get the third, he had to crawl over a body," Avera said. "If he hadn't had to crawl over this guy he probably would not have been exposed. That's when he was hit and killed."

Tillquist's body protected that third man from more serious wounds and he was evacuated after the 30- to 40-minute battle.

Avera said Tillquist's name and the story of his heroics were submitted for a Distinguished Service Cross because his colleagues were certain it would be awarded and wanted his parents to receive the award as soon as possible.

"I really felt like he'd gotten cheated," Avera said. "He should have gotten the Medal of Honor."

In a letter supporting Risley's efforts on behalf of her brother, Avera wrote: "While we believed that Specialist Tillquist deserved the Medal of Honor, we knew he would win rapid approval of the Distinguished Service Cross. At that time [in Vietnam], we did not have the necessary administrative support to process a recommendation [for] the Medal of Honor."

After retiring from the Army, Avera went to work as a physical-education teacher, then became an assistant principal at a junior high school. On a trip to Washington, he made an etching of Tillquist's name from the Vietnam memorial, framed it and placed it on the wall of his office. Avera said it was there "in case I need a reminder not to close the book on these little kids."

Before that day, Tillquist had not shown himself to be out of the ordinary, Avera said. He was simply a regular soldier doing his duty. But when his colleagues needed him, Tillquist rose above and beyond the call of duty, Avera said.

"The most unassuming person may, when needed, rise to the occasion," Avera said. "I witnessed some pretty heroic stuff, but not anything like that."

 

smcavcmb-transparent.gif (1643 bytes)

Index, Vietnam Wall, 1st Cav Medics, MIA/POW, CMB, Author's Tour, Glossary, Experiences, Soldier's Own Obituary, June 2, 1969, Events, December 2, 1969, Photos, Agent Orange, Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Medics History, Statistics, Draft, Tillquist, Tabasco's C-Ration Cookbook, Student Surveys & Questions, Request for Help, Vietnam Patches, Remembrance, Links, Webrings, Jane Fonda, Simpler Version of Tet 68

All content on this website is intended solely for educational purposes and as a means to honor Veterans and their families

Copyright 1998 - 2005 John D. Dennison

 

 

Renal-Cancer, IndexSite Map, Vietnam Wall, 1st Cav Medics, MIA/POW, CMB, Author's Tour, Glossary, Experiences, Soldier's Own Obituary, June 2, 1969, Events, December 2, 1969, Photos, Agent Orange, Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Medics History, Statistics, Draft, Tillquist, Tabasco's C-Ration Cookbook, Student Surveys & Questions, Request for Help, Vietnam Patches, Remembrance, Links, Webrings, Jane Fonda, Simpler Version of Tet 68

All content on this website is intended solely for educational purposes and as a means to honor Veterans and their families

Copyright 1998 - 2007  John D. Dennison