MURFREESBORO — I.V. Hillis Jr. was friends with legendary test pilot, the late Chuck Yeager. They served together in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, then kept up the friendship in later years. Hillis called the late Bob Dole “a true patriot” when they and others championed veterans’ efforts.
Hillis, 92, a McMinnville native, was a staff sergeant, air traffic control operator and technical sergeant in the Air Force reserves after an honorable discharge. He would spend 35 years as a news, weather and sports broadcaster at WSMT-AM in Sparta, and served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1971 to 1995. For more than 50 years, he has been a veterans’ advocate.
With friends and 40 members of his family present, Hillis received the Dr. Joe Nunley Sr. Award for service to his country during the 40th annual Salute to Veterans and Armed Forces game Saturday, Nov. 12, on the Middle Tennessee State University campus. MT Athletics and the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center hosted the game activities.
The MT Blue Raiders (5-5) defeated the Charlotte 49ers 24-14 in the game that featured special tributes to veterans, active-duty military and their families. Tennessee National Guard static displays and Vet Village were part of the activities.
“We’ve never had a better recipient than I.V. Hillis,” said Andy Womack, of Murfreesboro, a dear friend, former state senator, past Nunley recipient, veterans’ advocate and business owner.
“This is wonderful,” a humble Hillis said after receiving the award from Joe “Trey” Nunley III and accepting it “on behalf of all veterans — those who paid the price.”
Hillis shared how Kelly Crawford and Harold Dunlap, both from McMinnville, died in World War II. Crawford’s boat was sunk by a Japanese submarine; a Japanese sniper killed Dunlap.
Even with his family trying to protect him during the pandemic, Hillis has overcome three bouts of the coronavirus. Oma Lee Fults Hillis, his wife of 69 years, died in March 2020.
This award celebrates the career of Dr. Joe Nunley, a World War II U.S. Army veteran, an MTSU alumnus, professor, historian and former MTSU director of Alumni Affairs.