Seventeen-year-old Corporal Wayne Minard, an infantry soldier from White Water Kansas needed his mother’s permission to join the Army in 1948. His family describes him as a typical farm boy who liked to joke and play pranks along with his twin brother Dewayne. He died a Prisoner of War in Korea at the age of twenty. His remains made it home 65 years later.
The handling of those remains and assisting the family became the job of Army Master Sgt. Toliver Hill. He volunteered to be the Casualty Assistance Officer while on assignment in Kansas in 2016. Hill, who served as the NCOIC of STRATCOM with the Army Recovery Care Program from January 2021 – July of 2022, returned to his home state of Texas last month. Taking care of Soldiers is in his blood.
“He did it tirelessly for our Soldiers in recovery, so it was no surprise to learn his dedication from a past assignment was simply a part of his sterling character as a Soldier,” said Mr. Webb, executive director for the ARCP.
Hill says even though his jobs and assignments changed, the privilege of being a CAO for the relatives of Corporal Minard will never leave him.
“Any time there is a CAO involved it’s about the family. You have to make sure they are taken care of, and it was my extreme honor to do that for Corporal Minard’s family,” added Hill.
“During Master Sgt. Hill’s time as the NCOIC of strategic communications for our program, I have witnessed, first hand, his laser-focus on the needs of Soldiers and their families. Here at ARCP, it is our job to help Soldiers with complex injuries or illness, recover and return to duty or transition to veteran status. As a senior enlisted NCO, Hill understood from the first day how important it is to tell the stories of these Soldiers. To show others in the Army family how our program helps our Soldiers overcome great challenges, and go on to accomplish their dreams,” commented Ms. Julia Oliveri, chief of strategic communications, for ARCP.
From receiving Corporal Minard’s remains to planning the funeral and making the presentations of military honors, Hill says he knew his connection with the family did not stop there and would continue throughout his life. The U.S. Government designated Janet Stubbs, Wayne Minard’s oldest living relative, as the family decision maker. She was his niece and, in her seventies, when she learned of his remains. The connection continued with Janet Stubbs’ son Bruce and the desire to keep Corporal Minard’s legacy alive.
“I think Toliver Hill has gone above and beyond. His initial handling of the matter was outstanding. It made us feel so at ease. He kept saying his job is to take care of the family and he did. From the time my uncle’s remains came home to today, he has not stopped,” said Bruce Stubbs.
Oliveri noted how Hill’s character was evident in everything he did while serving with the ARCP.
“Hill reached out to many of our Soldiers and came to know them well. After hearing a Soldier’s story, he would discover some piece of history about that Soldier’s family, or their time in the Army and would take the time to get pictures of memorials with family names, or discover places their grandfather had served. It was well known in our formation that he would always take the unexpected path to honor Soldiers, whether those he worked with or those he had worked with. The experience of working side-by-side with him is one I will not forget.”
True to his promise, Hill has met with the family of Minard several times since 2016. The stories of love and loss are the reasons being a CAO was important to Hill. According to Stubbs, Hill took every story to heart.
“Uncle Wayne died in February 1953 and his mother died in November of that year. They say she died of a broken heart and felt responsible because she signed for him to join the Army.” Stubbs recalls talking with his grandmother, his Uncle Wayne’s sister, remembering the tears in her eyes and the pain she expressed for so many years. They knew of Wayne’s passing after being a POW but the not knowing where her brother’s remains were was devastating. “That’s all the family wanted back then was to be able to bring him home,” said Stubbs.
MSG Hill did not get to see the opening of the new wall at the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. before leaving however, he visited during the finishing touches back in June looking for another opportunity to honor Corporal Minard.
“I went to the construction office at the memorial and the guy that worked there just happened to be a retired Army Colonel and he walked me out there, through the mud, and I was able to get a picture of Minard’s name and he allowed me to get an etching of his name with paper and pencil. I believe it may be the very first etching of a name from that wall.” Hill is sending that on to Janet Stubbs and her family in Topeka Kansas.
The opportunity to bring honor and closure, be it with remains coming home or a name on a wall, this Hill says, is one of the highest of privileges in the Army.
“Every time I talk to Janet or Bruce, I tell them, as your CAO I will never stop working.”