Donor Spotlight: LtCol Robert "Bob" Gillon, Sr., USMC (Ret.)

By Roxanne Baker

There is no greater bond than the one forged in a battle zone. For LtCol Robert "Bob" Gillon, Sr., USMC (Ret), those links are just as tight today as they were in 1967 when three of his squadron mates were killed in action in Vietnam.

Gillon continues to honor his fallen brothers by donating gifts in remembrance of Capt Harold Hellbach, Capt Warren Keneipp and Maj Charles Conkrite.

“In any squadron there is a particular spirit that is over and above the normal Marine esprit de corps,” Gillon said. “You could trust that they would give their life for you and you would give your life for them; you’re brothers.”

The Marines served together in the Red Devils of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, MAG-11, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing. Gillon was deployed with the Red Devils in Vietnam for two years and flew the F8 crusader.

A love of flying was engrained in Gillon from the first time he was in a plane at 3 years. From then on, it was all he wanted to do.

“It was a major passion of my life. Just to be up in the blue is wonderful to me.”

He said he wanted to use his flying ambitions to serve in the military to give back to his adopted country. He had emigrated from Scotland to the U.S. when he was 10 years old and became a citizen at 18 years old. After graduating from the University of California - Berkeley, he received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on February 10, 1954.

He deployed to Korea that same year for 13 months with his first operational squadron, VMA-251 and flew a Skyraider, a propeller aircraft divebomber.  Squadron life was a tight teamwork environment, he said.

“We flew together, we ate meals together and we lived together,” Gillon said.

So when one of those team members fell, as in Vietnam, it was an immeasurable loss. It was towards the end of the Vietnam tour that the three Marines were killed in action. Gillon remembers that Hellbach was slated to return back home in just three days. He had flown 101 missions, and before he left, he volunteered for a final 102nd flight. It would be his last.

Gillon has kept the memory of Hellbach and his other squadron mates alive with donations in their names to the Marine Corps Association & Foundation. In 2013, his donations were used to purchase a unit library. Professional reading is an important habit to start for young Marines, he said, especially while overseas. When he was stationed in Okinawa, he remembers his unit’s library being a valuable resource.

“The more you learn, the more understanding you have of how the Marine Corps operates.”

Gillon said he’s a lifetime member because MCA&F is the professional association of Marines, and it’s important to be involved while on active duty and in retirement. That connection starts from day one as a Marine, he said. It’s a brotherhood he’ll never forget.

“In the Corps you find lifetime friends,” Gillon said. “You have a common tie of loyalty together to corps and country. It’s esprit de corps.”

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