Captain Henry “Hank” Phillips was a native of Foster, Rhode Island and a 1958 graduate of Mount Pleasant High School. Phillips entered the University of Rhode Island with the Class of 1962 and enrolled in the Army ROTC program. While in college, he lettered as a member of the Rifle Team and won many rifle matches representing URI. He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in June 1964.
Second Lieutenant Phillips entered the Army in January 1965, and after his initial training as an Infantry Officer, he was assigned to South Korea. In April 1966, he spent one month at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, competing for the All Army Rifle Team. Due to his excellent performance, his next assignment was to Fort Benning, Georgia as a member of the US Army Marksmanship Team. Captain Phillips served as Adjutant for the United States Army Marksmanship Training Unit at Fort Benning. While at Fort Benning, Captain Phillips completed Ranger School and reported to the Republic of Vietnam in May 1968. For his heroic actions against an armed hostile force in Vietnam, he was nominated for the Medal of Honor.
Captain Phillips was declared “Killed in Action” on 22 September 1968 in the Republic of Vietnam. For his heroic actions against an armed hostile force in Vietnam, he was nominated for the Medal of Honor and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously , the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross read, in part: “Captain Phillips distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action when his company and a convoy that he was supporting were ambushed by two North Vietnamese battalions.
Captain Phillips flew to the scene of the battle and jumped to the ground from his hovering helicopter amid intense enemy fire. As he was leading he organized a counterattack to secure a landing zone for an ambulance helicopter, he and his men came under heavy rocket propelled grenade and automatic weapons fire.
Securing four antitank weapons, he moved through the hostile fusillade to a point from which he was able to destroy a rocket propelled grenade team and an automatic weapons position. Once the casualties were safely evacuated, Captain Phillips led a small group of volunteers into the killing zone of the ambush to extract several remaining dead and wounded. He then organized withdrawals as darkness set in, and although wounded by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade, succeeded in leading his men to safety at an allied compound.”
The Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster citation read, in part: “While moving to a night location, his company came under an intense enemy attack. Realizing that his company would be completely pinned down unless the column started moving, Captain Phillips exposed himself to a heavy volume of enemy fire as he ran to the beleaguered platoon’s position and urged his men to start retaliatory fire. Soon, the friendly troops began providing suppressive fire, allowing Captain Phillips to turn to the task of getting the column out of the killing zone….
As he moved forward, he was seriously wounded. Unable to move and in intense pain, he shouted orders to his men, and the column began to move. Shortly thereafter, two mortar rounds landed near Captain Phillips; and he was mortally wounded.”
One of Captain Phillips’ classmates remembers Hank in this manner: “He embodied all the attributes this country desires when it sends its sons to war. He was an “Army Ranger” and was killed leading soldiers in combat. I think I understand how his character was developed by his family, the URI Army ROTC program and his college experiences. He led a life of selfless service to our nation, leading and saving the soldiers entrusted to him in combat. He is a true Rhode Island hero in every sense of the word.”
On June 4, 1969, the United States Army Infantry Center, Fort Benning, Georgia, honored Captain Henry Richardson Phillips by designating the Post Pistol Range as “Phillips Range.” At the time this honor was bestowed on Captain Phillips, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, five other ranges were named in honor of five brave soldiers who were all awarded the Medal of Honor.
Captain Phillips’ conspicuous gallantry in action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his family, and the University of Rhode Island. Captain Henry R. Phillips was buried with full military honors at the Phillips Memorial Cemetery, Foster, Rhode Island; and his name is engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Panel 43W, Line 65) in Washington, DC.