BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The country paid tribute on Tuesday to David Hillman of Buffalo, a retired Customs and Border Protection expert who lost his life in Afghanistan last week.
There was a tremendous outpouring of respect Tuesday for David Hillman. He made friends wherever he went, even in Afghanistan.
The path leading to St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church was lined with agents and officers from Customs and Border Protection. David Hillman left his mark on the world, said Assistant U.S. Commissioner Thomas Winkowski. Hillman was proud of his uniform, he said, and wore it with distinction and pride.
Vern Rinus said, "He just loved it when we'd go to work in the morning. He'd be the first one out the door. And it was just a pleasure to know such a human being."
Rinus recruited Hillman to go to Afghanistan, working for a contractor that taught Afghan customs officers to inspect vehicles more efficiently and increase revenue for the government. Rinus was right behind Hillman when a suicide bomber entered the Inland Customs Warehouse in Kandahar and blew himself up.
"From out of nowhere on the right hand side, somebody walked over to where our group was, and he just blew himself up," said Rinus.
Hillman was killed and three U.S. customs workers were wounded. While his funeral was marked with great but solemn ceremony, he was remembered by friends for his outgoing nature and love of story telling. One nickname for Hillman was "Huggy Bear."
Allen Schultz said, "He was just a likable person. He always has been like that from a kid on. He always had friends around him."
Nick Reach said, "We called Dave "Froggy," and the reason we called him "Froggy" was, Dave was the first one to jump into anything."
Hillman jumped at the opportunity to serve his country at age 60 in Afghanistan in one of its most violent provinces. Rinus says it wasn't the money that motivated him.
"He just loved teaching people, helping people and for a chance to go over there and help the Afghanistan people. That was Dave, right up Dave's alley. He wanted to do that," said Rinus.
Hillman leaves behind two sons. Benjamin, a Customs officer in Chicago, said, "He lived for the job. Absolutely loved it."
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