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Mark Hubbard’s Observations at Goddard – Memorial Day 2017 31 May 2017

Posted by USNA Class of 1976 in News.
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Mark shared some thoughts at the Goddard Memorial Day Commemoration at Goddard Space Flight Center on May 25, 2017. The flags surrounding his front yard are have the names of those he honored including our 11 Classmates whose names appear in Memorial Hall at the Naval Academy.

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This year’s Memorial Day Commemorative Event has given me the opportunity to reflect on and remember family, friends, Classmates, and others who I have known or have learned about over the years who died while serving in our nation’s military. Growing up as a child, my Dad informed us early on that he lost a brother in a tragic plane crash while he was training to be a military pilot. Dad never really went into any details other than that my Uncle Robert had died during Holy Week in April 1938 on Holy Thursday. My siblings and I were reminded of this every year at Easter time. Fast forward to present day, I had the opportunity to spend time researching the details behind my Uncle Robert’s life and death. I was amazed about what I learned. Robert Bronson Hubbard was a bright young man who showed leadership and a desire to excel as a teenager growing up in High Point, North Carolina. He was intensely interested in the Boy Scouts and was one of the first Eagle Scouts in the local council. An excellent student and athlete, he entered the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at age 17 in 1933 and spent four years matriculating at that fine University and competing as a Varsity cross country and track runner for the Tarheels. As a senior at Carolina, he applied to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and received his appointment just before he graduated from UNC. At West Point, he continued his athletic success, especially outrunning his Navy opponents as he had as a Tarheel. Not only in athletics was he admired at West Point. A Classmate wrote of my Uncle Robert, “Hub was a man in the highest sense of the word. Because he took good fortune and bad alike in the same easy manner, many of us did and still do receive inspiration to go on to do our work and our service. I believe I never saw him once ruffle that clean-cut facial expression in anything but a smile. Hub was a true gentleman, a great officer. Though his career was suddenly ended, he packed into his five years of service to the country a condensed effort and enduring worth which few will equal in their whole thirty years. Above all, I know that with those who knew him his memory will live on to inspire and set standards of high example”. My paternal grandmother wrote of Robert in his obituary, “The September following graduation, he reported for duty at Randolph Field, Texas, entering the Air Corps. His interest in flying, and the progress he was making in his work were marked. His career was all too short as, on the morning of Maundy Thursday, April 14th, 1938, while practicing landings in one of the outlying fields, he crashed and was instantly killed.” My Uncle Robert is buried at the Post Cemetery at West Point.
I often think about another hero, Tony Bilotti. Tony was my center on the Bishop O’Dowd High School Varsity football team in Oakland, California, when I was the quarterback. He was a year behind me at O’Dowd and followed a year behind me at the Naval Academy. Coincidently, Tony and I were teammates on the Navy Varsity 150 lb. football team where again, he was my center and I was the quarterback. Years later, while I was jogging at lunch time at the Destroyer & Submarine piers in Norfolk, Virginia, Tony pulled his car over to say hello to me. I got caught up on what he was doing and found out that he was a bombardier/navigator (BN) on an A-6 Intruder getting ready to deploy to the Mediterranean aboard the USS Nimitz (CVN 68). The following spring I was attending Tactical Action Officer school in Point Loma, California, and was jogging at lunch time with a fellow alum who was a Classmate of Tony’s. I mentioned to him the names of my Classmates who had died since graduation. He then proceeded to rattle off a few names from his Class and then mentioned Tony Bilotti. I was shocked. I learned that Tony and his pilot (my Classmate), Mark Gontkovic, were both killed when their A-6 was destroyed during descent by impact into rocks on a mountain/hillside on the Island of Crete after running out of fuel.

Another 150’s teammate and Naval Academy Classmate, Marine Captain Vince Smith, was killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing of the Marine Barracks. Classmate and 26th Company Mate, LCDR Dave Carlson, perished in the crash of his Navy Seasprite helicopter he was piloting while alongside the USS Reid (FFG-30). LCDR Ron Vauk USNR, USNA Class of 1987, was on his two-week active duty tour at the Pentagon when the plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. Ron lived in Mount Airy with his wife and son and attended the same church I did, St. Michael’s in Poplar Springs, MD. My wife’s coworker, Carol St. George, lost her brother, 1LT Jim Gaiser USA, a distinguished graduate of West Point, in Vietnam when he was hit by enemy mortar fire in 1969. Like my Uncle Robert, Jim Gaiser is also buried at the West Point Post Cemetery. All of these heroes left behind anguished mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and children. We honor their sacrifice and offer our thoughts and prayers to their surviving family and friends. Abraham Lincoln, at his second inaugural address over a century and a half ago, succinctly captured the obligation every American has in the responsibility to support the care of the loved ones killed in action – one of our oldest and noble traditions. He stated:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

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