Heath Haldane Hill

Heath Haldane Hill

Died October 31, 1984

Dane was the editorial page editor of the Winston- Salem Journal in Winston- Salem, NC, at the time of his death on October 31, 1984. He came to the Winston-Salem Journal in March, 1974 from the Richmond News Leader, where he was associate editor, and before that worked for three years as circulation manager for the magazine National Review.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal article which reported his passing, “His editorials were part of the entry that won the N.C. Press Association’s Public Service Award for the Journal in 1976. The Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge also awarded him two Honor Certificates for his editorials.”

Dane served in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1968, including one year in Vietnam as a Special Forces officer. His experiences in Vietnam served as the foundation for numerous editorials, including one after the attempted assassination of Pope Paul II on May 15, 1981. In that editorial, Dane wrote, “I suspect that for the Pope, the most salient point (of the shooting) is already known to him: the fragility of life, and how much turns on a margin of inches.”

Born in Ridgewood, NJ, Dane prepared for Yale at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in Scotch Plains, NJ, and Lawrenceville, majored in English and resided in Silliman. He played freshman and Silliman soccer and was a member of the Yale Film Society.

Dane’s widow, Linda Ates, wrote on June 3, 1985: “My husband killed himself last October. He returned from Vietnam in 1969. I watched and agonized with him for many years as he struggled to overcome the experience. It was a battle he could not win in spite of all the help, personal and professional, that he sought. When my children and I visit the Vietnam Memorial, I wonder how many people know it has been estimated that more men have committed suicide since their return from Vietnam than died there. It is with a sense of horror that I look at the memorial and know that it might well be more than twice the size if all the victims’ names were inscribed on its cold, black walls.”

When Dane married Linda, she was already the mother of five children. “I’m pretty sure that many if not all of Dane’s friends thought he’d lost his mind marrying a woman with five children when he had never married.” Together Dane and Linda had two more, Heath Haldane Hill, II, and Lyman Proctor Hill.

The following editorial appeared in his paper at the time of his death: “His name will not be listed with those many others on that stark black wall in the nation’s capital where we have belatedly recognized the dead from Vietnam. But perhaps the name of H. Dane Hill belongs there. If he did not bring back from Vietnam a mortal wound to his body, inside he bore the angry scars of that conflict, a conflict he never resolved within himself. He signed no personal truce and he felt no personal peace…We who were close to him could not always hear or understand the internal cadence to which he marched except to know that it had an ominous tone, and we are saddened that it was a beat that we did not know how to interrupt.”

Linda recently remembered: “Whether it was current fashion or an uprising in Chad, Dane knew about it – and we could talk about it. His experiences as a Special Forces officer during Vietnam were indelibly imprinted on his mind and tortured him until his death – but none more so than his memory of a Montagnard child who was hit by a mortar round and died in his arms. The ‘Yards,’ as Dane referred to them, were a fiercely loyal and pro-American tribe who worked with the American troops. Dane agonized over their fate when Vietnam fell. That memory made him extremely protective of our children. I had children when we were married and he loved and accepted them as his own; they, in turn, adored him. Taking the boys on Boy Scout overnight camping trips, coaching their baseball teams, listening to the girls’ teenage angst – looking back on it, I’m amazed that he took it all in stride since he was a bachelor when we were married. Dane was overjoyed at the birth of our first son and I still smile when I remember what he said after the birth of our second son – it was the first time they allowed fathers in the delivery room – ‘I don’t know how you ever did it without me.’”

William Reilly remembers: I had two roommates at the beginning of our freshman year – Dane Hill and another classmate. It was apparent from the start that they would not get along, and after a while their interaction deteriorated to the point where the Dean became involved. Consequently, I was called in to the Dean’s office as a neutral party and asked to choose between one or the other as to who would continue on as my roommate. Although I had nothing against our other classmate, I chose Dane because I felt we were just more compatible. It turned out to be the right choice for all parties, and Dane and I became good friends as the year unfolded.

Dane was a terrific writer, a good soccer player, passionate about politics, and a first-rate movie buff. He introduced me to several classic films, including many that starred Humphrey Bogart, who was probably his favorite actor. In return, I introduced him to some great jazz.

Dane wore contact lenses, and, in spite of my frequent warnings, often forgot to remove them before he fell asleep. His eyes were so sore the next morning that they were absolutely painful to look at. I was amazed that he could see anything at all throughout the following day – but he was a tough guy, and somehow carried on.

In 1971 or so, my wife, Pam, and I met Dane and his future wife in NYC at a jazz concert in Central Park. He had served in Vietnam as a Green Beret officer, and at that time was working for the National Review. Sometime later, I believe that he also worked for the Richmond News Leader. I was shocked and saddened when I learned that Dane had killed himself in October, 1984. He was only forty years old. It had taken roughly fifteen years, but of course it was the war that actually killed him. I just wish we had done a better job of staying in touch with each other. He was truly a great guy.

R. Douglas McPheters remembers: Dane was my neighbor through a fire door on the third floor of Silliman, never without a cigarette and always wearing his contact lenses. I was in Navy R.O.T.C. at the time and could never have imagined he would become deeply involved in the military side of the war in Vietnam. How those experiences molded the rest of his life was truly tragic.