Stephen Neil Hyland, Jr. – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army



Notre Dame Graduate to be Buried at Arlington Cemetery

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Neil Hyland, Jr., '77, who was lost in the attack on the Pentagon, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony will take place on November 8, 2001, at 1:45pm. For further details, contact Arlington National Cemetery at 703-695-3250. The DC Club mourns the loss of Lt. Col. Hyland, and is very proud that he will be honored in this manner.

Stephen Neil Hyland

Hyland told a friend 20 years ago that he'd like his epitaph to read, “Born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” It was just too fitting, loved ones said. “You look back, and all you think about is him laughing,” said his father, Stephen. “When he was in a room, everybody gathered around him.”

Army Lieutenant Colonel S. Neil Hyland Jr. '77, 45, was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart as his remains were laid to rest November 8, 2001, in Arlington National Cemetery. Chief of the Accessions and Strategies branch of the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, he had been in temporary offices on the opposite side of the Pentagon not long ago while his regular office area, the side obliterated by the jetliner, underwent a renovation and fortification.

In his younger days Neil Hyland seriously considered becoming a priest, spending a year and a half at the Holy Cross order's Moreau Seminary. Two friends he made there who went on to become priests are now Notre Dame faculty members — Michael Baxter (theology) and Austin Collins (art).

Hyland had returned to Washington in June 2000 after three years of service in Hawaii. A bachelor, he's remembered as the life of every party, someone who could keep everyone laughing without ever telling a joke. He came from a tight-knit family in California and became like a member of his friends' families wherever he went.

10 September 2006:

In their home in the hills above Claremont, Neil and Sue Hyland's family room centerpiece is a pool table. Neil pulls off the cover at my request, points out the respected manufacturer's name, Olhausen, and runs his fingers over the felt.
“He probably had it six months,” Neil says of his son. “I don't know if he ever learned to play.”

Neil Jr. was a salesman's dream, a soft touch who loved buying cool things. He'd snagged the pool table for his town home in Virginia, the site of weekly parties for his wide circle of friends.

A kid at heart, 46-year-old Neil Jr. had a decidedly grown-up job as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Neil Jr. and some colleagues were in a Pentagon anteroom, watching TV newscasts of the World Trade Center in horror like the rest of us.

At the same time, American Airlines Flight 77 was descending over Arlington National Cemetery at 350 mph. The plane hit the southwest side of the Pentagon, killing 125 people inside, including Stephen Neil Hyland Jr.

In 2002, I interviewed the elder Hyland for a news story on the first anniversary of 9/11. He'd had a rough two years.

Not only had he lost his first-born son, but in January 2000, Patricia, his wife of 46 years, had died of cancer.

A retired plant manager, Hyland was trying to open up to his four surviving children after a lifetime of leaving the nurturing stuff up to his wife.

Last Thursday morning, wondering how he was getting along and feeling like his son's story ought to be told again, I gave Hyland a call. He readily agreed to meet that afternoon.

(Granted, my focus here is usually cheap local diners, Pomona politics and pieces of wood resembling the Loch Ness monster. But I'll do the best I can, and I ask your indulgence for a day.)

“It's about that time again, eh?” Hyland, 72, asks as we sit down, four days before the 9/11 anniversary. He's coping, but the pain surfaces at random moments, he explains.

“You just get these thoughts. Thinking about him as a little boy, riding a bike. Going off to high school. Going away to college….

“You never forget. It just comes to you all at once at certain times. But she understands.”

That's the big news, and it's good: There's a new Mrs. Hyland.

Despite having lived a few doors away for two decades, Sue Clark and Neil Hyland never met until after the 2002 Williams fire brought their Claraboya neighborhood closer together.

Her husband, Stan, had died in 2000, so when a mutual friend introduced the widow and the widower, both of whom had lost spouses to cancer, they had plenty to talk about.

They married on Memorial Day 2004. He sold his house and moved into hers. (After seeing the view of the valley, I'm ready to move in, too.)

I asked about Neil Jr.

“Neil wasn't funny,” his dad says, “he didn't tell jokes, but he always made people laugh. He was always the center of attention, gregarious, uplifting, always positive.”

Neil Jr. attended Our Lady of Assumption Catholic School, Damien High and Notre Dame. He considered the priesthood. He considered writing children's books. On a whim, he saw an Army recruitment office in Pomona, went inside and was talked into enlisting.

He spent more than two decades in the service, stationed in dream posts like Florida, Germany and Hawaii. New York-born and Claremont-raised, he loved the East Coast – a place, he razzed his father, where men are civilized enough to wear a coat and tie.

Easygoing Neil Jr. was well-liked around Army bases and the Pentagon.

“They called him Major Hip-Hop because he had this happy walk, a hop, to him,” Hyland says. “They all loved him.”

In honor of its former adjutant general, Hawaii's Fort Shafter now has a Hyland Avenue. For the dedication, a band played the Notre Dame fight song.

Sue Hyland made sure to incorporate mementos of Neil Jr. in her husband's new home, including the pool table he claimed from his son's town home.

She tries to draw him out and understand his loss more fully.

While his children Cathy, Cheryl, Colleen and Charles have accepted her, Sue says her husband regrets that Neil Jr. isn't around to meet his new wife.

“He wishes Neil could know his own happiness and be able to share it,” Sue says.

The Hylands plan to spend a quiet Monday, probably going to Our Lady of Assumption to place a rose at a plaque for Neil Jr.

They visited the Pentagon in June for the groundbreaking for a 9/11 memorial, which will incorporate benches, names of the dead and a reflecting pool.

“It's sad, but it's more than that,” Hyland says, praising the design as peaceful and less forbidding than the Vietnam Memorial's black wall. He explains: “There's growth, there's trees, there's happiness.”

Growth, happiness – five years later, you can find them in a father's life, too.



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