HERNANDO BEACH — More than once during his six decades of life, Dennis P. Gill found himself in the right place at the right time.
In the heat of battle in Vietnam in the late 1960s, he earned a Bronze Star and Silver Star for saving comrades' lives. As a retiree in Hernando County, he found purpose as commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9236, helping local veterans overcome their challenges.
That life of effective service came to an end Friday when Gill, 60, was killed in a one-car wreck on Shoal Line Boulevard. He died at the scene after his southbound truck left the road about 1:10 a.m. and struck a tree, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The cause of the crash remained under investigation.
He had just left the VFW post, where members had nominated him to a second year as commander.
"No one else was running; he was a shoo-in," said district commander Claude Gregoire. "He was a good man, looking after every detail."
Born in Brooklyn, Gill was drafted into the Army in 1967 and sent to Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Division, said Bob Estrada, a lifelong friend and quartermaster at the Hernando Beach post.
"You don't get the Silver Star with Valor standing around in the motor pool," Estrada added, describing Gill's actions during a battle in the Central Highlands.
"He went out and pulled a couple of guys in, and in the process he was severely wounded. He got shot in the buttocks, and the bullet went through his leg. He'd been bothered by that (injury) throughout his life."
Post-traumatic stress disorder bothered Gill, too, but it didn't keep him from working at the U.S. Postal Service and at the Museum of Natural History in New York. He came to Hernando County in the late 1990s with his first wife, who later died of cancer.
Estrada said Gill is survived by his second wife, Gail, of Spring Hill; a stepdaughter; and his mother, two brothers and three sisters in New York.
In recent weeks, the Hernando Beach VFW had donated funds to the 173rd Airborne Foundation to take severely wounded veterans on fishing trips, and Gill had talked about launching a similar effort locally.
"A lot of times he was very private, because of the PTSD," Estrada said. "(But) I think his heart and feelings for the last couple of years have been with this post."
Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.