A special gift

Thank yous come in all sorts of ways. Colonel Howard Hill received his at March’s Niceville-Valparaiso Chamber Breakfast as a small metal bracelet that another airman wore more than 50 years ago. 


The owner, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Hills, wore it during Howard Hill’s time as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam Conflict. The bracelets served as a reminder of Hill’s daily sacrifice. They also were used to pressure governments and world leaders to demand North Vietnam, the enemy of the United States in the war, honor the Geneva Convention. The Convention required captors to treat prisoners humanely. North Vietnam routinely tortured and mistreated POWs, especially airmen – whom they considered ‘air pirates.’ The North Vietnamese believed this claim allowed them to mistreat American Airmen and Sailors they captured. 


Lieutenant Colonel Fred Hills now lives in a memory care unit. His son, Everett Hills, found the bracelet while organizing his father’s things and wrote to the chamber of commerce to request they give Hill the bracelet. In a note to the Niceville Chamber, Everett Hills wrote, 


“As a child, I can remember my father wearing this bracelet for a long period of time.” the younger Hills added, “I never knew what happened to Colonel Hill. You can imagine the tremendous and exhilarating surprise I felt when my wife and I Googled Colonel Hill and realized he was very much alive and had gone on to have an exceptionally distinguished military and productive civilian career. On behalf of my father and our family, please deliver this token from a long past time to Colonel Hill and his family with our most profound joy that He came from heartfelt respect for his honorable service and sincere appreciation for the finest of American qualities he is displayed for his generation and throughout his life with sincerest wishes for God’s continued blessing to the Hill family.” 

a man and a woman pose for a photo
Colonel Howard J. Hill (Ret) receives a bracelet sent to the Niceville Chamber of Commerce on his behalf. Chamber President Heather Jourdan is to his right.
This is indeed quite an honor… I will tell you, it’s wonderful to get home, not only to the good ol’ US of A and to be finally reunited with my wife after about a five-and-a-half year separation.”
a senior citizen speaking at a podium
Colonel Howard Hill
Niceville-Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce Member
@midbaynews 👀 A small metal bracelet connects two airmen from the Vietnam War after more than 50 years! 💪 Colonel Howard Hill received a bracelet from Lieutenant Colonel Fred Hills, which he wore during Hill's time as a prisoner of war. The bracelet not only served as a reminder of Hill's sacrifice but was also used to pressure governments to demand the Geneva Convention be honored. Read more to find out about Hill's story of bravery and his exceptional military career. 🇺🇸 #VietnamWar #PrisonerOfWar #MilitaryBravery #GenevaConvention #howardhillphotography ♬ Blue Moon - Muspace

The Bracelet

Howard Hill’s life as a 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron member stopped when he ejected from his F-4 phantom jet fighter over southeast Asia on December 16th, 1967. 


He spent 1,915 days as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. In 1972, Hill and other prisoners were freed in what came to be known as Operation Homecoming. 


After receiving a standing ovation from the crowd as he walked to collect the bracelet. “This is indeed quite an honor… I will tell you, it’s wonderful to get home, not only to the good ol’ US of A and to be finally reunited with my wife after about a five-and-a-half year separation.”

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After Release

Hill, a 1965 United States Air Force Academy graduate, served in the Air Force until 1989 when he retired from Active Duty. He also served in the Grenada Conflict. 


He earned many awards, including two Silver Stars, for his bravery. According to Veteran Tributes, a site dedicated to immortalizing military personnel’s service, one of his citations reads:


First Lieutenant Howard J. Hill distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as a F-4D Pilot in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1967. On that date, Lieutenant Hill led a two-flight attack against a heavily defended airfield. While evading intense antiaircraft fire, surface-to-air missiles, and threats from hostile aircraft, Lieutenant Hill successfully executed this highly important mission. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Lieutenant Hill has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”


He was awarded a second Silver Star due to his time in captivity. According to the citation, “The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 8, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Silver Star to Captain Howard John Hill (AFSN: 80413), United States Air Force, for gallantry and intrepidity in action in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force during the period 16 to 24 December 1967, while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. Ignoring international agreements on treating prisoners of war, the enemy resorted to mental and physical cruelties to obtain information, confessions, and propaganda materials. Captain Hill resisted their demands by calling upon his deepest inner strengths in a manner which reflected his devotion to duty and great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

Hill was awarded two Silver Stars, Two Bronze Stars with V devices, a Prisoner of War Medal, The Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross, according to the Military Times. The Howard Hill Soccer Complex in Niceville is named after him.

A United States Air Force Officer
Colonel Howard J Hill in his Air Force Uniform, near the end of his active duty service. Colonel Hill served in the Air Force beginning in 1961, when he began at the Air Force Academy. The El Paso Native retired in 1989 after 28 years of honorable service.

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