My best friend, Donnie Tillar convinced me to go to West Point. He was a year older than I was. Thanks to his persuasiveness I joined my childhood friend as part of the Corps of Cadets. This is a Memorial Day tribute to Donnie.
This is worth reposting annually.
In February of 1991, Donnie’s Blackhawk helicopter was shot down in the last hours of Operation Desert Storm. It took a few weeks before I got the word in a letter from my father. We did not have email then.
I kept a journal while I was part of Operation Desert Storm. Below is an entry from my journal on March 14th, 1991. I was a young, brash and broken 25 year old 1st Lieutenant in the Field Artillery when I wrote this.
I read this journal entry at a memorial service I organized with some high school friends. The only other time I have shared this was at a Veteran’s Day Chapel service at my kids school.
I now share it every Memorial Day Weekend here.
Day 151 In Country 14 March 1991
Today I cried, I screamed, I shook and a part of me died. I got a letter from Dad telling me that Donnie Tillar had been killed when his Blackhawk was shot down over Iraq. The details are sketchy as to when and what mission he was doing.
I’m just so shook up by the whole incident. Donnie and I go back to 7th grade. We were inseparable. He’s the closest I ever came to having a brother. Dad said he learned in Vietnam that it was always the best ones who got hurt. Now I know the true cost of war.
In a way, I idolized Donnie. He could accomplish anything he wanted to. He was the best athlete I ever knew. He could play any sport. He was smart. He made Dean’s List constantly at West Point without really seeming to try. He could dance. Man could he dance. The ladies loved him. I loved him. I still do.
When I heard, I couldn’t stop sobbing. I grabbed my Walkman and walked about 2 KMs. Then for about an hour and a half I just walked in circles. I yelled, I cried, and I sang. I was listening to the Rolling Stones Hot Rocks. Donnie loved The Stones. I sang at the top of my lungs, by myself in the middle of the Arabian Desert. I talked to Donnie.
After a while, my mind turned to our adventures together. I began to smile. Then I found myself laughing and crying at the same time. If that is possible.
I returned to my vehicle in a state of numbness. But I began to tell everyone and anyone, Donnie and Dave stories. They just came flowing out of me. When Donnie and I got his parents’ car stuck in the snow ON TOP OF THE SKI SLOPE. Donnie and I driving away on his motorcycle with a case of champagne after work at the Hotel Thayer. Donnie and my trips to Stowe skiing and the hell we put his Dad through. And, the story about whenever we’d go out Mrs. Tillar would roll her eyes when she found out he would be with me, while my mother did the same when she knew I’d be with him.
Now the beat goes on. I’ll be telling people about my best friend Donnie Tillar for the rest of my life. My first son will be named after a true hero and a true friend. Donaldson Preston Tillar III.
I am going to have a party for him. In his honor, I want to gather his old friends and old loves together for a big blowout. He’d love to be there. But, he’ll be in a much better place. All we can do is raise our glasses and drink a couple for a man who touched all of us. A man with a penchant for fun. A man we will all miss. A man I will fondly remember as the brother I never had.
I have a 18 year old son named: James Donaldson Anderson. He and his twin sister were born 6 years to the day (March 14, 1997) after I originally wrote this journal entry.
In November 2012, Donnie’s younger sister Lani got married. I had the honor of officiating her wedding and being with her whole family. Donnie was there too. We all felt him.
Remember our fallen heroes and their families. Not just on Memorial Day, but every day in your prayers.