01 Dec 2000
Thirty-five years ago when my brother Bob left home to go to Vietnam, he said to my sister Elaine and me "I won't be coming home." He told a neighbor "I don't want to be a hero, I just want to come home."
Well, he did come home, and he was a hero.
In his short life as a medic, in a jungle west of Plei Me, South Vietnam, on November 4, 1965 he saved the lives of two of his comrades in the front line of enemy fire. He was attempting to save the third when he was shot at point blank range in the back by enemy machine gun fire. He had placed his own body over his buddy to protect him while he administered first aid, and in doing so he lost his own life.
Bob was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Vietnam that day in November. I really believe that Bob earned this award. This is not something he had to do, but something he chose to do. He believed in what he was doing, and I know he would do it the same way given a choice.
He is remembered by his comrades in arms, friends, and most of all
By his family.
From his sister,
The Hartford Courant
Honors Arrive For Vietnam Hero
By DIANE LEVICK, Courant Staff Writer
February 3, 2002
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, Spec. 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.
As Americans watch "the sanitized war on CNN" against terrorism, it's important to remember the "unsung heroes" of past conflicts, Stefanko said.
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.
However, Risley's request that Tillquist receive the highest combat award - the Medal of Honor - was denied, and she said she is appealing the decision.
Wiping away tears, Risley said she was touched and overwhelmed at the elaborate ceremony Saturday. To pursue the highest honor, she says, she has an eyewitness to Tillquist's death, a key military endorsement, and plenty of support from veterans.
The ceremony "kind of closes another page of that book and I'll just go on with another one," Risley said. "I'm going to try one more time [for the Medal of Honor] and that will be it for me. I think I've done enough."
The Hartford Courant 2002
Reprinted by permission
New Haven Register
BRANFORD - Jean Tillquist Risley fought tears as she received the American flag at the State Armory in honor of her late brother.
Sister keeps medal fight alive for hero
Michelle Tuccitto, Register Staff
February 07, 2002
The Connecticut National Guard held a special ceremony for Robert Tillquist for his heroic actions and sacrifice in 1965, when the 23-year-old Branford resident died in the Vietnam War.
Tillquist received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart shortly after his death for his actions, but Risley has been on a quest for more than three years to get the highest possible honor for her brother - the Medal of Honor.
On Saturday, Tillquist's family received written citations to go with the awards he has received, along with several other honors, at the State Armory in Hartford.
"It was really overwhelming and heartwarming to get this recognition for him 36 years later," said Risley, of Coventry. "It was absolutely beautiful, and he really hasn't been forgotten. I'm not giving up on the Medal of Honor though."
Maj. John Whitford, director of communications for the Connecticut National Guard, said the additional honors included a combat medical badge, good conduct medal, a presidential unit citation, a national defense service medal, a Vietnam service medal with two campaign stars, a Republic of Vietnam campaign ribbon and gallantry cross.
On Nov. 4, 1965, Tillquist was on a search-and-destroy mission near Plei Me, Vietnam, when his platoon came upon a well-fortified emplacement and gunfire erupted.
One of Tillquist's comrades, platoon Sgt. Charles Cox, was wounded. Tillquist, a medic, administered first aid and moved him to a more sheltered position.
He then noticed that another of his comrades, Sgt. Norman Tye, had been wounded. Tillquist charged through the barrage, administered first aid and moved Tye to safety.
Yet another of his comrades, Spc. William Williams, fell wounded directly in front of a Viet Cong machine gun emplacement.
Tillquist stripped off his gear, grabbed his rifle and medical kit and began to crawl to the aid of the third wounded man. As he administered first aid this time, Tillquist was mortally wounded in the back by machine-gun fire.
Risley believes her brother's actions merit the military's highest award, the Medal of Honor.
The Army Decorations Board last year notified Risley that the degree of action and service he rendered did not meet the criteria for the Medal of Honor. Instead, the board reaffirmed the awards Tillquist had already been given.
Risley said she has new witnesses and endorsements from commanders to add to the application, and she plans to reapply for the Medal of Honor shortly.
New Haven Register 2002
Reprinted by permission
Two days before his death, Bob, a former student at Wilbur Cross High School, wrote a letter to Mr. Ted Astarita, a member of the faculty at Cross High School, with the desire that it should be read to the school's current students:
B Co. 2nd Bn. 12th Cav.
1st Cav. Div. (AM)
APO San Francisco, Cal. 06490
2 Nov. 65
As a favor, I ask that you read this to as many students as possible.
Remember me? The umbrella kid. I don't know whether an old married (?) (congratulations) man such as yourself can remember back that far. This is to inform you however, if you haven't been reading the papers lately, that your favorite (huh?) student (past tense) is now in Viet Nam. Below I will try to explain the reason I am writing.
Just as other young men are afraid of dying, so am I. This to me was sufficient reason for my concern, for my personal welfare when I was ordered over here with the Airmobile Division by President Johnson. A fear of dying is a great burden to a young man who has not fully tasted all that life has to offer.
So I came over here with many misgivings. I didn't want to come over here, I didn't want to leave the security of my nice comfortable home, or of America. Why should I give up the luxurious life I knew in the states, to come over here and fight, fight for something I didn't really care about?
After only a few weeks here, these and many other questions were answered. Just being here and having contact with these people can tell you many things.
When you see children 6 or 7 years old, with one or more of their limbs brutally amputated. Or orphanages over-crowded with young boys and girls who were forced to watch the massacre of their parents. Or fertile fields that would grow most any crop, ravaged and destroyed (with the harvest that would have fed the people of the village, laying in ruins), just to deprive the people of sustenance. When you see this and much more (things to make even the strongest of men cry out in anger, at the outrage of it all) then you understand the reason for your being here.
I came here afraid for my life. Now I would gladly lay down my life for these little (but only in stature) people. They have brave hearts and fight on against a terrible foe. A man who is not proud and willing to help these people, after seeing what they have to fight against, is not much of a man, not much of an American.
The morale of the men (the U.S. Forces here) is high. The men want to help these people, and are doing a good job of it. We are like the forces of Lafayette. We too have come to a country fighting for its freedom. And like the men of LaFayette we will be able to go home (when the job is done) knowing that we did the job we came to do.
One of the prime factors in the morale of the troops is the news from home. A staggering blow, to the men fighting for this cause, were the headlines concerning the demonstrations in protest of our Vietnam policy. It might be a blow to the morals of the protestors that the men in Viet Nam think that our policy in Vietnam is not strict enough. We think that the government is being too lenient with the Viet Cong.
Being born and raised in Connecticut, I know that the people there are behind our boys here one hundred percent. I know that I'm not the most patriotic person from our state, so I know if I feel the way I do the rest of the people feel even more strongly.
I hope that in writing this I have accomplished my purpose. To instill in you the students of Cross, the school to which my heart belongs, a more accurate knowledge of what one G.I. of many who think alike, feels about Viet Nam.
I close now asking that you remember it's American boys fighting for you. Maybe then it will be easier for you to understand what is really going on.
A fellow Crossite
ROBERT A. TILLQUIST
A medic in Viet Nam
Among Bob's personal effects was a spiral notebook, empty except for the poem below. We don't know when it was written.
Your arm's blown off
Johnnie is smashed before you
That's what it is
It's not far away
That's what it was
Will it ever be again?
The Sarge is dead
Another bomb, another buddy
It's all around
The smell of bodies and earth
What are they like
They don't perfume the air here
Is it still really there
My mom would welcome you as a son
What's that sudden pain in the leg
The screams of bombs and men
Was Nietzche right?
My brother was awarded the nation's second highest decoration for personal valor for the actions which led to his death. The Citation for his Distinguished Service Cross follows:
HQ US ARMY, VIETNAM,|
APO San Francisco 96375
28 Feb 1966
AWARD OF THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS
1. TC 320. The following AWARD is announced posthumously.
TILLQUIST, ROBERT A. US1500892 SPECIALIST FOUR E-4
HQ Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry
||Distinguished Service Cross|
||4 November 1965|
||Republic of Vietnam|
For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. On 4 November 1965, Specialist Tillquist, a medical corpsman attached to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, was accompanying Company B on a search and destroy mission near Plei Me, Republic of Vietnam. As the lead platoon hacked its way through the dense Vietnamese jungle growth, they suddenly came upon a well-fortified Viet Cong emplacement, whereupon the point man immediately opened fire on the insurgent position. As the remainder of the company reached the area, they began a full scale assault on the hostile position. In what seemed to be a final defensive effort on the part of the insurgents, they steadily increased their fire on the advancing group. During this affray, a member of the friendly attacking force was wounded. A cry for a "medic" was heard, and Specialist Tillquist, who was in the front line of the assault, immediately gathered his medical equipment; went to the aid of the wounded man; administered first aid; and moved him to a better sheltered position, some thirty meters from the main line of fire. After securing his patient, he noticed that another of his comrades was wounded and lying in the midst of hostile fire. With complete disregard for his own personal safety, he charged through the intense hostile barrage to the aid of the wounded man and again administered first aid, moving his comrade to a safer position. As he secured the second man, he saw another of his comrades fall wounded directly in front of a Viet Cong machine gun emplacement. Despite being almost completely exhausted and disregarding his own personal safety, Specialist Tillquist stripped off his web gear; grabbed his rifle and aid kit; and began to crawl to the aid of the wounded man. During this valiant attempt, he was mortally wounded when hit in the back by a burst of fire from the hostile machine gun. Specialist Tillquist's extraordinary heroism, compassion for his fellow man, and supreme sacrifice were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the military service.