When asked to be interviewed after joining five other veterans from around the Tampa Bay area honored by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, John Brill said twice, “I’m honored by this whole thing, but I’m not sure I deserve it.”
Brill, 91, and the others were recognized on Oct. 20 for their exceptional military and community service. Brill was among the honorees for his service to the U.S. Army during the Korean War and his service to the Rotary Club as a civilian.
Brill is modest, perhaps because he didn’t have to go to Korea, but he was preparing to go. It was a matter of timing that hostilities ended before his training did. Just out of college, he was drafted in 1952 for two years.
“In '52, there was absolutely no decision to make as far as your future was concerned,” Brill said. “I was going to teach. Forget about it, I was being drafted to go into the Army.”
Brill spent 16 weeks in training camp and another six weeks in leadership school. Then he was accepted into Officer Candidate School.
“The thing I’m proudest about is that our class started with 215 candidates. We graduated with 95, which I was one of them,” Brill said. “That was not an easy thing. That was 22 weeks of physically and mentally grueling experiences.”
When the war ended in 1953, Brill was sent to Camp Chaffee in Arkansas to be a company commander and serve his two years.
Following his service, Brill returned home to a small town south of Rochester, New York. He taught for a year, but said he didn’t enjoy it as much as he anticipated. He went on to work in human resources at Bausch + Lomb and retired as the president of a retail trade association in the lumber industry.
Service remained a priority well beyond the military. Brill started at a club in New York and is one of the founding members of the Rotary Club of Longboat Key.
“In terms of a Rotarian, John is very dedicated and is a team player looking to help in any way he can,” fellow Rotarian and former neighbor Joan Sherry said. “We appreciate him as a friend, as a Rotarian, as a vet; he’s just a great guy.”
Rotary Club’s annual Veterans Day event
Sherry is chairing this year’s Veterans Day event at Temple Beth Israel. Planning started in the spring, and Brill is on the committee.
The program will run similarly to years past with guest speakers, music, a military singalong and lunch.
Dr. Ann Stephenson-Moe is directing the live music portion. She’s been the organist-choirmaster at the Church of the Redeemer since 1974 and serves as a board member for the Choral Artists of Sarasota.
The keynote speaker is Tuskegee Airman George Hardy, one of the youngest fighter pilots to ever serve. He flew in 136 missions over the course of three wars: World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
“This is the first time since COVID that the Rotary has been able to put together our Veterans Day event,” Sherry said. “It’s very exciting because we are back in person, and we love the opportunity to say thanks to our local guys and gals.”
The event begins at 11 a.m. and is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted and will benefit Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, Operation EcoVets and the Florida Veterans Foundations’s work in supporting veterans impacted by Hurricane Ian. Seats are limited, so registration is recommended. Call (941) 544-4396 or (407) 810-8564.