Hillary LeClaire, Jr

Hillary LeClaire, Jr., age 86, passed away on July 15 at his home in South Chatham surrounded by his loving family, friends, and compassionate caregivers. He leaves his devoted wife of 55 years, Anne, his loving children of whom he was so proud, Hope of South Harwich and Christopher of South Chatham, as well as many nieces and nephews, his family of fellow Marine aviators, and his lifelong friend, Philip Smith of Harwich.  
                A native Cape Codder and descendent of the Doane and Nickerson families, Hillary was the only son of Vivian and Hillary LeClaire, Sr. and was born on October 28, 1932 in the family home on Miles Street in Harwich. He was predeceased by his parents, his first wife, Lois Sullivan, and his sisters, Sarah Maltezos and Constance Solari.
  He attended Harwich schools and following graduation from high school in 1950, enrolled in Northeastern University, transferring to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, after his freshman year.
                During his Junior year at UMass, he saw a poster in the Student Union that said, “Become a Naval Aviator.”  Following his passion and seeing life as a grand adventure to be embraced, a lifelong motif, he left the University and enrolled as a NAVCAD at Naval Flight Training Command, Pensacola, Florida. He then advanced his flight training at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. He received his Naval Aviator Wings and elected to receive his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. He was stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina where he became a test pilot and qualified for carrier landings on the aircraft carrier the USS Monterey. A veteran of the Korean Conflict, he was deployed to Far East and served 14 months flying Skyraiders in Korea and Japan with the First Marine Air Wing, VMA 121.  He was stationed in Iwakuni, Japan.
                He received his discharge from active duty in 1955, transferred his commission to the Marine Corps Reserve, attached to VMA 322 at NAS South Weymouth, MA, and returned to UMass where he resumed his education, graduating with a BS in Wildlife Management.  After graduation he was employed as an air traffic controller at Boston Center.  When he received a government communication informing him that both his job at Logan and his capacity as reserve pilot were both critical positions during any time of war and had to choose one, he unquestioningly chose to continue with the Reserves. He returned to the Cape and was employed at the Melrose Inn in Harwich, built a home and the first of the Oak Island summer cottages that he and his wife operated for the next 50 years.  
From 1957 until 1985, remained with his squadron at South Weymouth flying the A-4 Skyhawk. While on annual two- week active duty each year, he bested squadron members and routinely won the Top Gun and Bombing trophies.  
                He received a commendation from the Marine Corps for saving an FJ-3 when dash instruments indicated an engine fire and he chose to return to the field and land rather than eject over a populated area. USMC General Robertshaw said “his actions indicated presence of mind and courage.”
In 1964, he became the first Marine reservist to fly the A4 non-stop coast to coast, in-flight refueling.
During his career in the USMCR, he served on a number of Promotion and Policy Boards at Headquarters Marine Corp in Washington, D.C. and was President of the 4th Air Wing Policy Board in New Orleans. He attended the National Defense University in Washington, DC. He was awarded the National Defense Service Metal and the Marine Corp Reserve Metal.
His final assignment with VMA-322 was as Commanding Officer. He was a leader beloved by both officers and enlisted Marines and was noted for his fairness and wise counsel and was respected for his gifts as a pilot.
                In 1985, just as he thought his career in the Reserve had ended, he responded to the call to be Deputy Group Commander Wing Support Group 47 in Selfridge NAS Michigan, a two-year tour.  Following that he accepted another two-year billet as Deputy Site commander of Marine Air Group 49, at NAS South Weymouth. At that time, at age of 52, he completed his last landing on a carrier. When he finally retired his flight suit and helmet he had flown more than 4300 hours as a fighter pilot.  
He always enjoyed sitting in the duck blind in the salt marsh near his home. As he had learned from his father, he passed on his love of the Cape and respect of nature to Hope and Chris. From the time they were youngsters, he took them out in his boat and showed them how to harvest scallops, steamers and quahogs.
                His pastimes ranged from attending theatre to raising chickens, growing vegetables, and introducing new friends to the wild beauty of Monomoy Island. In mid-life he became a commercial shellfisherman and one of his great pleasures was heading out to Monomoy at dawn.
Locally, he served on the board of The Chatham Waterways Committee, The Shellfishermen Advisory Board and The Friends of Monomoy Theatre where he was treasure of the Board of Directors.
An avid fan of the Red Sox and New England Patriots, he enjoyed taking the family to games and in later years enjoyed excellent adventures to ballparks and stadiums across the country with Anne and her nieces Linda and Laura.
                He loved to travel and enjoyed family vacations whether it was staying home and playing fiercely competitive games of croquet and Monopoly or heading off for ski trips or to explore Mayan ruins in Guatemala. In later years he traveled with Anne, especially enjoying their trips to London, Amsterdam and Florence. Although he said it couldn’t compare to flying jets, he took pleasure in flying out of Chatham Airport in the family Archer Cherokee.
                He was a man of integrity, kindness and steadfastness and has left a vast hole in the fabric of life. Those who knew him will miss his wicked sense of humor, his appetite for life, his twinkly blue eyes and his open and welcoming heart.  
                His family extends deep gratitude to the exceptional team at Broadreach Hospice and the private nurses of Bridget’s Home Healthcare, as well as to the friends who supported them through his final illness.
                A service of gratitude and celebration for his life will be held at 11 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 13 at the church of his childhood, The First Congregational Church, Main Street, Harwich. Burial will be private.
                And flights of angels will sing him to his rest.
                Semper Fi.