1999 Hampton VA


Memorial Ceremony

September 18, 1999

Albacore Park, Portsmouth, NH


For all of us shipmates gathered here today, our journey through life has taken us down to the sea.  We were in our youth, innocent, ambitious and impressionable; eager to explore new vistas and, yes, as the expression goes, “we joined the Navy to see the world.”  Our Navy experiences are indelibly written in our memories.  These reunions are a catharsis of our past, a refuge, a sanctuary, and a time to escape to a simpler time of our lives when we could carry all our earthly possessions on one shoulder.

This is a somber moment of our reunion.  Time will inexorably thin out our ranks as it has done this past year.  We now pay tribute to our past shipmates who have been permanently detached; Rocco Aliberti, Roy Bright, Jim Keller and Ann Whitlock, wife of Howard Whitlock.

At this place, it is also fitting that we pay tribute to another shipmate who is long since gone. John Hilary Billings was born on March 13, 1928 in Jamaica, New York.  He entered the naval service as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy on June 13, 1946.  Upon graduation with the class of 1950, he was commissioned an Ensign and assigned to his first duty in the destroyer, USS Robert L. Wilson DD847.

He served in various capacities during his tour of duty ranging from First Lieutenant to Main Propulsion Assistant.  He was a qualified Officer-of-the-Deck underway and helped train and qualify many of the recalled reservists and junior officer replacements who were assigned to the Wilson during the Korean War emergency of 1951-52.

Hilary was with us on the January-March 1952 Mediterranean Cruise, as the accompanying pictures from the cruise book show.  Many of did not really know his first name was John.  He preferred to be called Hilary and signed the log as J. Hillary Billings.  He was a bright young man and a sharp officer with his career sights set on the Submarine Service.  A man of many talents, he put his knowledge of music to use as “off-duty” coach of the Wilson Glee Club.  We performed often in port after dinner in the pilothouse.

LTJG Billings left the Wilson for Submarine School and qualification as a nuclear submarine officer.  After earning his “Dolphins” and subsequent sea duty in submarines, he went to graduate school at the University Of Maryland.  In 1960, he was awarded a doctorate in Mathematics for his research in Extensions of the La Place Cascade Method.

At the time of the Thresher tragedy (April 10, 1963), he was Assistant Planning and Estimating Superintendent for new construction at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  He was on board that ill-fated day as an observer, not a member of the boat’s crew.  He had attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. His obituary indicated that he was survived by his widow, the former Dolores W. Welsant of Baltimore, Maryland and five children, Vicki A., John H. Jr., Mary M. Catherine and Blake B.  At the time, he also left his mother, Mrs. Edna M. Billings of Mineola, New York.

We Remember

Composed and read by Phil Dilloway