The Madison Senior Center held a memorial service for volunteer Bill Delia Feb. 16. Delia passed away Jan. 14 after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer.
Most Madison residents knew Delia for the time he spent at the senior center or from the hours he spent coaching and refereeing hockey and little league games. While many knew Delia had served in the U.S. Army, most were unaware that he was a survivor of Operation Hump, a search and destroy operation of the United States and Australian coalition forces on November 8, 1965 during the Vietnam War.
The objective of Operation Hump was to drive the Viet Cong fighters out of the area known as Hill 65. The coalition fighters moved into the territory and were ambushed by over 1,200 Viet Cong fighters. Forty-nine U.S. soldiers were killed and Delia, a paratrooper, was wounded in action and awarded a Purple Heart. One of the few to survive, Delia carried his Sergeant out through the jungle before a helicopter came to his rescue.
Upon returning to the states after the war Delia dedicated his life to helping others. He was a staunch supporter of youth baseball and hockey even after his own children were no longer involved. After moving to Central Virginia in 1996, he became an active referee and was the area director of referees and was instrumental in introducing the National Ice Hockey Officials Association (NIHOA) to the Charlottesville area.
Delia touched many lives with his commitment to the Madison Senior Center. Senior Center Director Shirley Workman said Delia was a friend and advocate for everyone at the center.
“Bill was a dear friend,” said Workman. “He found time for everyone. Any time someone had a problem, a TV that needed repair or furniture that needed moving, Bill was there. He was always helping people. I talked to him almost every day and for 12 years he was here helping out at the senior center a few days every week. Bill rarely talked about [the Vietnam War] but it changed his life in many ways. He felt that surviving Operation Hump was a blessing and he did his best to pay it forward. He touched so many here at the senior center. Bill was always helping fellow veterans by going to politicians and lobbying on their behalf.”
Wolftown resident Tara Cardinal emphasized how generous and kind Delia was.
“Bill helped me when we moved back home from Georgia,” said Cardinal. “Both my kids loved him.”
Madison County High School student Willow Rudolph remembered Delia fondly as well.
“Bill was more than a coach, he was a great role model for my brother and me,” said Rudolph. “Bill always smiled and made everyone feel better about themselves. I remember when I started playing softball, he was tough on me. Bill had me hang a tire on a tree and hit it for batting practice so I could really get it. I am blessed to have had such a supportive person in my life.”
Workman and Delia’s family organized the memorial at the senior center. For several days after the celebration of life, the senior center flew the 173rd Airborne flag in honor of Delia’s life and service.