Hildrey Pollard leaves a legacy of community service

By Debbie Adams

Hildrey Pollard of Vinton passed away on May 31, 2020, at age 95 after a long life of service to his family, his church, his community, and his country.

Hildrey and Ocelia Pollard celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in April 2020.

Pollard served his country in World War II. He served his community as a member of the Roanoke County School Board, as Director of Transportation for the school system, through his membership in the Vinton Lions Club, and in his work with the Dogwood Festival. He was true to his faith as a member of Waverly Place Baptist Church for decades.

“Dad was a man of service,” said his daughter Carolyn Philpott. “He worked hard all of his life. His many random acts of kindness and help to others will never be known or told.”

Pollard was born on November 7, 1924 in the Montvale section of Bedford County, graduating from Montvale High School in 1942. He was one of seven children. He and three brothers served in World War II. Pollard served in the Pacific Theater with the Army Air Corps.

“He never talked about his service in the Army Air Corps, until one day, in his 80s, it was like the dam broke and he talked to us about what happened,” said Philpott. “He flew 45 combat missions. Thank goodness he loved to fly, having earned in September 1942, his pilot’s license, which he still carried in his wallet.”

In recent years he shared his war-time experiences with the students at William Byrd High School during their Veterans Day ceremony.

Pollard shared his World War II experiences with students at William Byrd High School on Veterans Day 2016.

Pollard was interested in flying and worked at Buford’s Airport in Montvale at the time he graduated from high school. The airport was a commercial/municipal airport with an unpaved runway where oil storage tanks are now located. In September 1942, he earned his pilot’s license there.

In the spring of 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, put on a train to Florida, and assigned to the Army Air Corps.

Hildrey Pollard served his country in the Pacific Theater in World War II.

His next stop was armaments, gunnery, and mechanics training in Colorado, then Texas for flight gunnery training, including gunnery practice firing a 30-caliber machine gun at a moving target pulled by another plane.

In January 1944 he was sent to Nevada and assigned to a 10-man flight crew for a B-24 Liberator bomber, a heavy bomber used extensively by every branch of the armed forces.

Pollard was trained to man the overhead turret and nose turret gun positions and as the flight engineer, sitting behind the pilots and across from the radio operator.

Eventually his crew was assigned to a new B-24 bomber which they flew to the Pacific Theater. They were assigned to the 31st Bombardment Squadron, Fifth Bombardment Group (Heavy), first based in the Admiralty Islands.

He flew 45 successful combat missions in the war against Japanese forces and installations on many of the islands controlled by the Japanese, against petroleum facilities, and against Japanese ships. He was stationed on Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Halmahera Island, the Philippines (where they bombed Manilla several times), and Borneo.

On most missions, there were no fighter escorts. The B-24s were the targets of Japanese anti-aircraft artillery fire, fighter aircraft, Kamikaze suicide pilots, and naval vessels. All 10 men in Pollard’s crew survived the war.

Pollard was awarded the Air Medal and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon for the campaigns he was involved in.

His mother received a handwritten letter from his commanding general praising “your son’s meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. Beyond such formal recognition lies the feeling of pride which Staff Sgt. Pollard brought to his friends and his organization. By his fine service he has done honor to his country, his home, and to us.”

He was recognized for his role in the bombing of Japanese-held oil refineries in Borneo, which produced 15 percent of all Japanese aviation gasoline. The raid was described as “one of the longest ever flown with the heaviest loads ever lugged by a Liberator on a Pacific mission. Most of them came home with scarcely more than enough gasoline to taxi into revetments.”

Hildrey Pollard’s military career was detailed in James Morrison’s “Bedford Goes to War–the Heroic Story of a Small Virginia Community in World War II.”

In April 1945, Pollard headed home on a ship bound for San Francisco. He returned to the Roanoke area where he lived with relatives and worked at a hardware store in Vinton.

“He took cement mix from the store to the Vinton War Memorial site and helped mix cement for parts of the building,” Philpott said. “He felt the War Memorial was important to honor those who never returned home from the wars, including two of his cousins.”

On April 20, 1946, he married his sweetheart, Ocelia Hogan, in the parsonage at Waverly Place Baptist Church. They celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in 2020.

During his career, he worked for Vinton Hardware, the WBC Corporation of Vinton, and the Vinton Holdren’s. He and Bill Cundiff developed land together and then co-owned a lumber yard in downtown Vinton.

In 1968 the Pollards joined the staff of Holdren’s in Vinton.

Pollard served the community on the Roanoke County School Board from 1965-1975, for eight of those years as chairman. Some of his most remembered accomplishments on the board were selecting the sites for William Byrd Middle and William Byrd High Schools.

After several years as the manager at Holdren’s, Pollard was recruited by the School Board to serve as Supervisor of Transportation for Roanoke County Schools from 1975-1990 when he retired.

Superintendent Arnold Burton emphasized that Pollard “did not seek the job, but the superintendent sought Pollard. It occurred to me that Hildrey knew as much about the school system and operations as anyone in the county and has the awareness, expertise, and familiarity with geography, and skills in handling personnel that are all essential to the job. It’s the roughest job we have in the school system; it concerns not just buses, but people.”

Pollard was an active member of Waverly Place Baptist Church for over 70 years, serving as deacon, teacher, and church treasurer. He and his wife were named “Shining Lights” of the church in May 2007.

“His greatest desire for others to accept and follow Jesus Christ was seen in his own daily example,” said Philpott.

Pollard was a member of the Vinton Lions Club (later the Vinton Host Lions) for almost 64 years, joining in October 1956. He served as president in 1962-63 and received the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award for humanitarianism in 1996-97. Lion Larry Kilgore says Pollard was active in any, and all, activities of the Lions Club. He served as past Deputy District Governor and past Zone Chairman, working with other clubs in the area.

“He loved being a member of the Vinton Host Lions Club,” said Philpott. “He was devoted to sight preservation for people— a campaign of service that was part of Lions International. As a child, my memory of Dad in the Lions Club was selling those great brooms.”

Pollard served on the Vinton Chamber of Commerce, was named a Vinton Father of the Year, and served as president of the Vinton Dogwood Festival in 1965— a year when 15,000 people lined the streets of Vinton for the parade and 28 bands marched.

Pollard is survived by his wife Ocelia; his son Thomas and wife Kathy; his daughter Carolyn Philpott and husband Tom of Vinton; three grandsons and three great-grandchildren, Phillip Pollard, wife Ann and son Mason; Eric Pollard, wife Brittany and twins Parker and Kinsley; and Mark Pollard; step-granddaughter, Patricia Philpott Williams; and step great-granddaughters Mackenzie and Abby Williams, and Lauren W. Mehfoud.

“To say ’we will miss him,’ is an understatement,” Philpott said. “His love and care for my mother, brother, and me were never doubted. Even today, he challenges us, as his family, to carry on his legacy of love and service.”

Hildrey Pollard at a World War II air show at the Roanoke airport in 2016, taken by son-in-law Tom Philpott.

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