STEUBENVILLE - David Hilliard had no plans for a military career when he "was voluntarily drafted" in 1960.
"I really didn't know what I was getting into at the time. But several older veterans told me to go into the military where you grow up. I learned discipline and how to persevere and leadership skills doing my time in the Army," said Hilliard.
Hilliard was honored Wednesday afternoon as the Jefferson County Veteran of the Year for 2012.
HONORED — David Hilliard, a 27-year Army veteran, left, received the Jefferson County Veterans Service Commission Veteran of the Year Award for 2012. Charles Strizak of the Veterans Services Commission presented the award to Hilliard during ceremonies Wednesday afternoon. - Dave Gossett
"I grew up in Weirton and my family moved to Steubenville when I went into the Army. I thought I would do my two years for my country and come home. But when I came home the mill was on strike and no one was working so I went back and said I would do another three years. Then I started moving through the ranks. I served one our in France, two tours in Germany and three tours in Vietnam," recalled Hilliard.
"Serving in the Army taught me about comradeship. You walk a different life in the military than in the outside life. There were guys from the farm and guys from the city and the boroughs. But we were all close and became like brothers," noted Hilliard.
"If I had a choice I would do it all over again," said Hilliard.
Hilliard is the father of three girls and a son, "who is serving in the Navy."
"I was a little disappointed he went into the Navy and not the Army, but I support him 100 percent. And he has plans to make the Navy his career," explained Hilliard.
After 27 years, Hilliard retired as a command sergeant major and became passionately involved in veterans' issues.
"I have dedicated my life for our veterans so they can have a better future. What happened in Vietnam made me want to help veterans. We came home but we weren't welcomed back. I came home in 1972. I was one of the last ones out. There were a lot of protesters when we came home so we had to stick together. The nation didn't fail us, but the people did," remarked Hilliard.
He was recently elected second vice commander of the American Legion Department of Ohio
Hilliard is a life member of the AMVETS, a 22-year member of American Legion Post 274, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2716 and a life member of the Disabled American Veterans.
"I am very humbled to accept this award today. This is one of the highlights of my life," said the 71-year-old Hilliard.
During the award ceremony, Hilliard looked around the meeting room at the Veterans Service Commission building and asked all veterans to stand up and raise their right hands.
Hilliard then recited the oath military personnel state when they are inducted.
"People took the oath and bonded together whether you were overseas or not. You were willing to give your life for your country. Our job as veterans is to serve other veterans. And we must not ever forget that we are free because of our veterans," Hilliard said.
"If we didn't have our veterans we might be speaking German or Japanese today. Our military veterans have served this country with honor," said Hilliard.