New Haven, Connecticut, US
United States Army
SP4, HQ CO, 2ND BN, 12TH CAVALRY, 1 CAV DIV
La Drang Valley, South Vietnam, 11/04/1965
When Branford native Robert A. Tillquist flew off to Vietnam, he seemed to know he wouldn’t make it home alive. He told his family so.
What the Army medic didn’t know was how he would be showered with military honors 36 years after his death – and how his sister would continue fighting her own battle for him to get the Medal of Honor. In a poignant ceremony Saturday at the State Armory in Hartford, Col. Thomas S. Stefanko presented the Distinguished Service Cross – the second-highest decoration for heroism in combat – and nine other honors for Tillquist to his sister Jean Risley.
In the midst of a firefight near Plei Me in November 1965, Specialist 4 Tillquist, a 23-year-old Army medic with the 1st Cavalry Division, went to the aid of two wounded soldiers and moved them to safer positions. Then, disregarding his own safety again, he crawled to help a third man and was killed by a Viet Cong machine gun. Tillquist’s body protected the third soldier from more serious wounds.
“Specialist Tillquist did not wait for orders,” Stefanko told family members attending the ceremony. “He reacted. He knew what he had to do and he did it. His superior training and undying American spirit is what saved the lives of his fellow soldiers”, said Stefanko, chief of staff, Army National Guard.
Stefanko also read aloud a moving letter that Tillquist had written a few days before his death to a favorite high school teacher. In it, Tillquist explained how he’d been afraid to go to Vietnam but that after seeing the brutal life of the Vietnamese civilians, “Now I’m glad to lay down my life for these people.”
As nearly 60 members of the National Guard’s Headquarters State Area Command stood at attention, Risley accepted 10 honors for her brother, including the Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Emblem, and National Defense Service Medal. Tillquist’s death had initially been listed as occurring in a non-combat situation. When Risley, of Coventry, asked that the record be corrected, the Army determined that Tillquist qualified for numerous decorations.
Followup – posted on the Vietnam virtual wall – 14 February 2002:
Saying THANK YOU to Robert A. Tillquist are the kids of the late Norman E. Tye of Williamsburg, Kentucky, for saving our Dad, for saving us by giving us a future together.
With deep respect Norman “Buster” Tye, wife Delores, and kids LaTrice, Norman Jr. and Travis of Lexington KY and Sabine Panzer-Williams and daughter Alexandra Sarah-Lee of Guntersblum/Rhine Valley Germany