Saturday, June 09, 2012

Mr. Speedy Hite: Augusta County has lost an American hero

Delbert "Speedy" Hite - November 1, 2009

Delbert "Speedy" Hite passed away today. He was 94 years old, a three-war military veteran, a character in his own right ... and he was my friend. I hope the angels in heaven had a row of American flags lined up to greet him as he entered the pearly gates because he certainly deserved them.

Mr. Hite knew everyone and everyone knew him. He had a few health issues but had always overcome them in the past. I think I thought he was indestructible. He lived near us on appropriately-named Hite Lane, a place I pass on almost a daily basis. It will be sad to go by now and to no longer see him on the street in his pickup or his Jaguar. I teased him about that snazzy car, and once while dropping off something at his house when he wasn't home, he said, "Just leave it in the Jag."

The news of his passing brought back a flood of memories of this wonderful gentleman. He was a proud veteran of the U.S. Army who had served in three wars -- World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was often mentioned and pictured in my blog, this patriotic man who loved America.

Mr. Hite attended many of the Support the Troops rallies we held in Staunton after 9/11 when our troops were sent to war. One particular rally was cold and windy with a skiff of snow on the ground. The wind whipping around the courthouse in downtown Staunton was bone-chilling as I looked up and saw Mr. Hike walking toward me in his black leather jacket, no hat on his head, with his familiar smile on his face and an American flag in his hand. I hugged him and chided him like a child.  "Where's your hat?" He chuckled in that low-key Mr. Hite way. He was there to show his support for the young men and women who were stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knew how important it was for them to see that America supported them because he had walked in their shoes ... he knew freedom was not free.

He was one of the most active people I knew ... driving over his land to check on the cattle, coffee in the mornings at Kathy's Restaurant in Staunton with his group of friends, attending Republican and civic meetings, and visiting throughout the community. He always welcomed the Republican candidate signs when I asked to place them on his property that bordered the Rt. 262 bypass. We would drive up through the fields to the highest point of his property where the view of the Appalachian Mountains was stunning. I told him that spot would make a beautiful home site and he laughed. He had a nice home in a sheltered area of his vast property away from the cold wind that blew on that hill.

I first met Mr. Hite in the 1990s when he was running for the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and walked down my driveway as he campaigned door-to-door. He was in his late 70s at the time, dressed in a suit, and caught me as I worked in the yard. We stood in the driveway talking and he got my vote. That was the beginning of our friendship.

A few years later, I became involved with the local Republicans. Mr. Hite was a member of the committee and often attended the SWAC Breakfasts where he was recognized for his extraordinary service to this country.

One particular incident stands out to me. In 2001, we worked Republican headquarters together and then 9/11 hit. He came in one day while I was working and we talked a long time. He told me he had been in his chair watching the news in the aftermath of 9/11 and he fell asleep. When he woke up, they were concluding a story about someone who was killed when the airplane hit the Pentagon and he heard "Vietnam."

"I think that was someone I knew," he told me, and sadly shook his head that he had not seen the entire news story.

I went home that night and searched on the internet for the story. Sure enough, I found where retired U.S. Army Staff Sargent Max Beilke, age 69 and the last American combat soldier to fly out of Vietnam in 1973, had been killed when the terrorist-flown airplane hit the Pentagon where he was working on veterans issues. He and Mr. Hite had served together in Vietnam.

I printed the news story about Sgt. Beilke and then wrote a letter to Mr. Hite thanking him for his service to America to protect the freedoms that we enjoy. I signed it and slipped it into an envelope along with the news story, sealed it, and took it a few days later to a Republican rally where I suspected he would be. Sure enough, his smiling face came through the door so I handed him the envelope and told him I had found the story about his friend.

He opened the envelope right then and read the news story, and then he read the letter I had included. His eyes welled up with tears and he was surprisingly at a loss for words as he hugged me and thanked me over and over for finding out what happened to his fellow soldier.

As Pastures District chairman in Augusta County, I could always count on him to be one of the first to sign up to work a precinct on election day. Even as he got older and I worried about him, he insisted. He seemed to enjoy meeting all the folks he knew and he loved to talk politics.

He was a loyal supporter and once asked if I would consider running for Augusta County supervisor. I laughed and turned him down. Several times he asked if I would join the Lions Club, of which he was very involved, but my plate was already full with other obligations.

I am really going to miss him.

Mr. Hite's obituary is remarkably short for a man who accomplished so much and lived so long. He was humble that way. He also would not consider himself a hero. I do.

There will be a memorial service at a date that has not yet been announced.

Our two dozen American flags will wave in front of our house on the Fourth of July but this year they will have special meaning. They will fly to honor the memory of Mr. Speedy Hite.

Farewell, my friend.

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant...." -- Matthew 25:21

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell

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