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Vietnam Veteran honored as hero of the Game ahead of 80th birthday

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils
Maj. John Hoskins enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1955, serving for 20 years including in five tours of the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1973. Hoskins, surrounded by his family, was honored as the New Jersey Devils' final Hero of the Game for the 2015-16 season on April 9, 2016. Photo by Patrick Dodson

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. John Hoskins has the distinction of dropping the last bomb in Cambodia as part of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, on August 15, 1973. Hoskins holds another distinction, the New Jersey Devils’ final Hero of the Game for the 2015-16 season, which the team celebrated on April 9.

Hoskins enlisted in the military in January 1955, joining the Air Force because he wanted to fly. While serving in Youngstown, Ohio, Hoskins said he met two Air Force Pilots, who encouraged him to apply for pilot training after initially working as a radio repairman. In June 1959, Hoskins received his pilot wings and his commission.

Following further training, Hoskins spent time based in Las Vegas and four years in Germany, where he flew the then-new F-105 bomber planes. In 1965, Hoskins was deployed to Vietnam for the first of five deployments he’d serve between 1965 and 1973. In eight years of service in the conflict, Hoskins flew 227 combat missions.

“About 70 of the combat missions were in North Vietnam. The rest of them were in Laos, South Vietnam and Cambodia,” Hoskins explained.

Over the course of his military career, Hoskins received 11 medals and commendations. Above the rest, Hoskins said the Distinguished Flying Cross holds special meaning. Hoskins received the cross for a mission in December 1972, where he flew an aircraft that helped a downed pilot in hostile territory.

“The helicopter that we were escorting had two engines, and ground-based fire hit one of the engines. They were already in position, and in that situation, the chopper can’t hover in place, so it was our mission to make sure it had a clear path to safety.” The support fire Hoskins provided allowed the rescue helicopter to complete its mission.

Hoskins also received the Bronze Star for time spent as a lead in flight training for pilots assigned to the 33rd Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base in 1969. In addition to overseeing the training of pilots, Hoskins served as a Life Support Officer.

A resident of Portsmouth Ohio, the 79-year-old veteran came to the Devils’ season finale as a guest of his daughter, Yvonne, a season ticket member, to celebrate his upcoming 80th birthday.

“It feels wonderful,” Hoskins said of the in-game recognition. “A lot of young people don’t remember, but during the Vietnam War, people coming back were not always well-received,” he recalled, noting that recent veterans more regularly receive thanks for their service. While Hoskins and other Vietnam Veterans may not have received the greatest welcome when they returned decades ago, Hoskins received a thunderous, standing ovation from the Prudential Center crowd.

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