January 31, 1944 (New York, NY) – July 15, 1966; 22 years old
Last local address: 375 Rowayton Avenue
Enlisted on August 20, 1963
MOS: 2531, Field Radio Operator
Tour Start Date: unknown
Service number: 2041198
Unit: III MAF, 3rd Marine Division, 4th Marines, Headquarters & Service Company
Born to Robert A. Sr. (1904-1982) and Lucille Cunningham Lilly (1908-1988). Two brothers, Reverend Father Robert A. Jr. (1935-2022) and Mark (1936-). Three sisters, Anne “Annie” (1939-), Patricia Lilly Underberg (1941-), and Virginia “Ginny” Lilly Ferguson (1946-).
Casualty Location: Song Ngan Valley, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam
William is on The Wall at Panel 9E, Line 24
Awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
The final mission of USMC helicopter CH46A, Tail Number 152500
Operation Hastings (July 15 – August 3, 1966) began with a series of combat assaults by 2nd & 3rd Bns, 4th Marines. LZ CROW, about 10 km N-NW of Cam Lo, was barely large enough for 4 CH-46s. The first landings went OK, then one landed long in the trees, one was shot down, and two had a rotor disc collision in the LZ. A reaction force from 1st Plt, E Co, 2nd Bn, 1st Marines was sent in on CH-46A 152500 to protect the downed aircraft while the 3rd Bn, 4th Marines went about their affairs. The element aboard 152500 included infantrymen, Corpsmen, and engineers from A1st Eng Bn whose job it was to see about clearing the LZ. The HMM-265 history states that at 1815 on 15 July 1966, EP-171 was hit by heavy enemy 12.7 automatic weapons fire and subsequently crashed. Both pilots and the gunner survived, with minor burns sustained by the pilots and second and third-degree burns by the gunner. Both pilots performed in an outstanding manner while maneuvering the burning aircraft toward a landing site. The crew chief SGT Robert R. Telfer died despite the efforts of the gunner, SGT Lucius, to save him. The official USMC Vietnam History for 1966 contains a photo of this aircraft taken from LZ Crow by photographer Horst Faas (1933 – 2012), a German photojournalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner best known for his compelling images of the Vietnam War. The photo clearly shows flames coming from the aft and smoke from the cockpit area while the CH-46 is still at least 100 feet in the air. On page 165 this history quotes COL Vale, the Infantry battalion CO on the ground at the time: The last helicopter (152500), carrying reinforcements from the 2d Bn, 1st Marines, came under ground fire from the ridge on the south side of the valley. The pilot tried to land in the LZ, but as he slowed down and hovered, the smoke got into the flight compartment and he had to move forward to keep the smoke out. As a result, he overshot the LZ and after moving over the CP tried to set down again. By this time the helo was rolling and barely remaining airborne. The pilot had to move forward again and then crashed on the edge of the area in which the CP and 81 mortars were set up. Thirteen men died and 3 others were injured in this event. PFC Michael A. Gooden was aboard the aircraft and died of burns received in the crash. He is miscoded in the CACCF as a ground casualty. CPL William J. Lilly and HN John N. Morris are the two men killed on the ground. They too are miscoded in the CACCF, but the other way around—as passengers. The names of the other passengers on 152500 include CPL Orson H. Case, HM3 Andrew P. Chamaj, CPL Paul R. Chambers, PFC James W. Cherrick, 2LT Ronald K. Cullers, PFC Michael A. Cunnion, HM3 Mark V. Dennis, CPL James M. Reid, PFC Carl W. Schloemer, SSGT Herolin T. Simmons, and PFC Gerald E. Stubstad. In addition to the 15 men killed in the crash (1 aircrew, 12 passengers, 2 on the ground), three other Marines died in the ground fighting (Parts of this report provided by Ken Davis) [Taken from vhpa.org; image from kichbu.multiply.com]
Posted on vvmf.org December 29, 1998, by Tom Nelson
I grew up with Bill in Rowayton. We met in nursery school when we were both 4, and were best friends until he died. Bill was 6’5″ tall, with red hair, freckles all over, and a love for comic books! He came from a big family of 2 brothers and 3 sisters. He died too young and had only 2 weeks to go in Vietnam before he was killed. For whatever reason, his life was to be a short one. He never got a chance to grow old with his buddies, and I often think back to the days we were growing up. We all had great times in those early years, and he thoroughly enjoyed the time he had on planet Earth! He enjoyed life, and sports, and was a lifelong sailor on the Long Island Sound! He would have made a great husband and father had he lived. God had other things in mind, and we all know that he is at peace in Heaven.
Posted on thewall-usa.com on June 11, 2001, by Joe Vivion
Bill Came to Phu Bai in the Spring of 66 as my replacement. He arrived at a place called the “French Fortress” located on a riverbank south of Phu Bai. I was due to rotate stateside in a few weeks, and Bill was slated to take over my job as the E-4 radioman in the mortar platoon. Bill and I became good friends, as he eagerly learned about my job. Bill was intelligent, cheerful, and a good guy to have around. When I left, I gave Bill a very faded jungle utility jacket with a hole burned through the pocket from a c-ration fire. He loved wearing it because it made him look “salty”. Months later, I was standing in line at the movie at Camp Lejeune, where I had been stationed prior to being discharged. A marine who had just gotten back from V.N. approached me and told me what happened to Bill. I will always remember Bill, and what a shame it was he had to die over there. He had so much going for him.
From thewall-usa.com January 18, 2006, by Steve Russell
I was lucky enough to serve with Bill in 3/4. When in the rear we would listen to VOA on the radio and talk for hours. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see the grin on the big redhead’s face. I miss him still.
From thewall-usa.com June 3, 2007, by Annie Lilly (sister)
My brother, My Friend
There is always an empty spot in my heart but I have met a few from the 3/4 and one particularly, is my new brother. For all of you still with us, it is wonderful to be able to say thanks for your service, for keeping us free, and for writing on this page. Annie, Bill’s sis
From The Norwalk Hour July 18, 1966
The fighting in Vietnam claimed the life of another fighting Marine from Rowayton Friday when Corporal William J. Lilly died while flushing Viet Cong out of a hilly area outside of Quang Tri. The tall, red-haired 22-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lilly of 375 Rowayton Avenue, was killed when a helicopter was shot down on top of his position. The six-foot-five-inch, 200-pounder was engaged with his platoon in “Operation Hastings” which began on Friday and continued on Saturday. Marine Lt. Albert Prevost who grew up on Highland Avenue, Rowayton, was killed a few months ago while flying in Vietnam. “Bill,” as he is known to his many friends, went into the Marines in August of 1963 and had been in Vietnam since January. He had been scheduled for return in a short time. Although he had written home many letters to his parents, two brothers, and three sisters, he never discussed the battle aspects of his life in Vietnam. He was a modest lad not given to boasting about the precariousness of his numerous encounters with the Viet Cong. He had lived in Rowayton since his family moved to their present residence in 1948. He was two years old at the time and later attended Rowayton School, Brookside School, and St. Joseph’s School from which he graduated into the Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey. He attended St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, New Hampshire until he enlisted in the Marines. He was a familiar figure in Rowayton’s Five Mile River where his family keeps a sailboat. Sailing was among his favorite pastimes as were football and wrestling in which he participated at Delbarton. In addition to his parents, Corporal Lilly is survived by two brothers, Reverend Robert A. Lilly, of the Maryknoll Fathers, stationed in Korea. Mark F. Lilly of Rowayton, three sisters, Mrs. Peter (Anne) Lilly of Stamford. Mrs. Robert (Patricia) Underberg and Miss Virginia Lilly, both of Rowayton and five nephews. Return and funeral arrangements, in charge of Collins Funeral Home, will be announced pending notification from the Marine Corps. Father Lilly will not be able to attend the services as he is on a six-year assignment for the Maryknoll Fathers. He had planned to meet his younger brother, Bill when the Marine was transferred home.
Delbarton School Class of 1962 alum, Joe Stehr, purchased a brick in honor of Corporal Lilly in Semper Fidelis Park, National Museum of the Marine Corps, 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway, Triangle, Virginia
Picture of the brick at the Marine Corps Museum. Taken November 17, 2022, by the webmaster.
Corporal Lilly is buried in St. John’s Cemetery, 223 Richards Avenue, Norwalk, Connecticut; Section F1, Grave 1024. Photo by webmaster.