Kent State ROTC honors WWII veteran with terminal illness


Major ret. John Lilley waits for the awards ceremony to begin during the Kent State University Golden Eagle Battalion 2011 awards dinner on Wednesday. Lilley, a 1949 Kent ROTC graduate, was inducted into the Kent State University ROTC hall of fame during the dinner. Photo by Jessica Yanesh.

Mike Crissman

Retired Major John “Tiger” Lilley, a terminally ill, retired veteran, was honored as a Kent State Army ROTC Hall of Fame Distinguished Alumni – an award only 15 other graduates have attained at the university since 1947.

The annual Kent State ROTC awards banquet, held Wednesday evening in the Student Center ballroom, celebrated the 88-year-old’s accomplishments as well as the achievements of current students in the ROTC program.

“I’m honored, really, because it was unexpected,” said Lilley, who was especially impressed with the large eagle statue he was awarded. “It’s a beautiful trophy.”

Senior Shane Clarke, public affairs and intelligence officer, said Lilley was able to make it to the event despite battling terminal cancer and dealing with speech problems.

“Once the decision was made to induct him, we didn’t know if he was going to be in good enough health to actually attend and receive the award,” said Clarke, a general studies major. “So it’s a good thing to see him here and well enough to enjoy the awards banquet with us.”

Lilley, who served in the navy during WWII, was a member of the Kent State ROTC’s first graduating class in 1949. After earning a bachelor’s degree in education on the GI Bill, he spent 23 years in the army reserve. He later taught high school in Shaker Heights and Cuyahoga Falls.

Matthew Ray, junior history major, who was given the Military Order of the World Wars award for scholastic achievement Wednesday, said Lilley more than deserved the award.

“He’s just one of the high-up guys that needs to be respected and thought of for all the stuff he’s done for us,” Ray said.

Kathy Lilley, who has been married to John for 58 years, said her husband’s involvement in ROTC and the army shaped his life for the better.

“It’s been a part of his life since he graduated,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful program. Being in the army has been an education for the whole family. It’s been great.”

Despite attaining the rank of major, Lilley said the biggest focus of his life has been his wife.

“She’s my first officer,” Lilley said.

In total, 34 awards were given to ROTC cadets at the banquet Wednesday. They are based on students’ academic, physical and leadership qualities.

Contact Mike Crissman at [email protected].