1LT Derek S. Hines was killed in action while deployed to Afghanistan in 2005. Recipient of two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, Derek heroically continued to battle against insurgents even after being fatally wounded.
He was a fellow West Point grad and was captain of the hockey team. You can imagine the grit and determination of a young man who was both an exceptional student and an exceptional Division 1 athlete. It came as no surprise to anyone who knew him that Derek turned out to be an exemplary officer as well. He was the sort of leader who put his soldiers first, and who endeavored to be of service to both his fellow citizens and the people of Afghanistan where he served.
In this Stories of Hope entry, you’ll hear from Derek’s brother Trevor about the kind of man Derek was, the hardworking and loving family from which he came, and finally about the sacrifices he made in service to his fellow soldiers and his country. You’ll also hear from Trevor about the struggles Gold Star families like the Hines face and how best to reach out to those who have faced terrible loss. And, most importantly, you’ll hear how Derek’s family has chosen to honor his sacrifice in a way that would have made him proud.
How old were you when you learned of your brother’s sacrifice? What was the grieving process like?
I was 15 years old when I learned that my brother was killed. It was an incredibly difficult time in my life, obviously. I am the youngest of four kids, with Derek being the oldest. My brother Mike and sister Ashley were both off at college and I was a sophomore in high school. Being the only one home at the young age of 15 with parents who had lost their eldest son was certainly difficult. My parents, though, are some of the strongest people I have ever met. The way in which they raised us formed an extremely close family from a very young age. The importance of family and love for one another that my parents instilled in us all enabled us to all help each other through the unfortunate circumstances we had to endure.
Did you grow up in a family that served in the military?
No, we did not grow up in a family that served in the military. My Father Steve served as a Massachusetts State Police Officer for over 30 years, but other than that we were not a family with any military background. Derek’s initial introduction to West Point and becoming a cadet was largely driven by the pursuit of his dream to play Division 1 college hockey.
Derek believed in the cause that he was fighting for.
How did your family find the strength to get through such a difficult time? Who or what motivated you to push forward?
One of the biggest things that helped us through the grieving process was a realization that I think we all made shortly after Derek was killed, and that was that we must honor and preserve his memory and legacy each and every day. Derek believed in the cause that he was fighting for. He loved and deeply cared for every man and woman who served alongside him while overseas and those values can be traced back to the amazing upbringing of our parents Steve and Sue. We all have a tremendous amount of pride that Derek is our brother/son and in all that he did during his 25 years in this world. We will never stop sharing his story.
I think the incredible outpouring of support that we received from our family, friends, and community (which still continues to this day) was instrumental to our family managing such a difficult time. From day one when we received the news of Derek’s death, we had a tremendous network of people who were not only always willing to help us, but also to help us spread Derek’s amazing story.
Personally, the “who or what” that motivated me or pushed me forward was in fact Derek. There were certainly many people who shared a deep connection with Derek who helped me through as well, such as his best friend Ed Hill. Also, our shared lacrosse coach John Roy. And many more people. At the end of the day, though, what motivated me the most was Derek. I knew that Derek would not want me to sit in my room and cry every single day. It would have been a disservice to him and all that he fought for.
Derek fought, and ultimately died, for a cause that he believed in and in doing so, made me realize I had to do my best to live a life that would honor him. I am not, nor have I ever been, perfect, but I do my best to honor Derek and his life each and every day.
What have you done personally to find purpose and restoration since the tragedy your family faced?
Initially, for me, the purpose that I found was largely through the pursuit of the academic goal that all of my siblings had already accomplished. Our parents provided all of us the incredible opportunity and advantage of a private education and an athletic platform, to help us gain entry into a strong college for both academics and athletics.
From Derek’s first day at St. Johns Prep (an all-boys Catholic private high school) which he, Mike, and I all attended, our parents worked incredibly hard to put each and every one of us through private high schools and colleges. We were much different than most of our peers in a private school. Our parents were not executives of big companies where one parent often did not have to work. Both of our parents worked incredibly hard and often went without to provide us with the opportunity to pursue our academic and athletic dreams. The work ethic that they instilled in us is what made us, and especially Derek the person and teammate that he was.
At the time Derek was killed I was a sophomore in high school and I wanted to follow in those footsteps of Derek, Mike, and Ashley. As I mentioned, they all went on to great colleges and universities where they were able to pursue both their academic and athletic goals. This goal, which I accomplished, provided great purpose and restoration during such difficult times.
As time has passed, now 18 years since Derek was killed, my purpose and goal have shifted slightly. I still to this day try to continue to live a life that would make Derek proud both in my professional job and as President of the foundation we established in his honor. I am engaged to the love of my life and alongside her, I hope to someday start a family with children who will always be reminded of their uncle and his service not only to just his country but to everyone he encountered in his short life. I hope to raise children in a house of love with the strong family values and work ethic that our parents instilled on us, with Derek always looking down on all of us.
What is your advice for someone in the throes of hardship or significant change?
My advice to anyone in the throes of hardship or significant change is that you cannot do it alone. When tragedy, hardships, or a significant change strike, the solution is not to shut everyone out, shut out the world. All too often this is a solution that people take and in my eyes, it is not a healthy one. The process of grieving is one that cannot be conquered alone. Yes, there are times when you want to be alone but you also need to find the people that you can connect and talk with. For me, it was my family, my father, mother, brother, and sister as well as a few select others who were close to Derek. It does not need to be everyone, but find those people who you connect with deeply and personally. Keeping emotions bottled up inside will only lead to more problems.
I often tell people who have experienced loss or other hardships that it is okay to cry, sometimes you need to and it is healthy to do so. Life is not always going to be perfect but it is the way that one conquers those challenges that ultimately determines their success and in the process you need support. As I have mentioned previously, my family and our friends and community are the reason I and we have been able to carry on in the fashion that we have. Without the incredible family that I have, I do not think we would have been able to conquer the challenges we have endured.
Additionally, one thing I have learned through all that I have been through is that no difficult situation is the same. Sometimes the best thing you can say to someone is nothing at all and simply being there is enough. Every loss of a family member, challenge, or hardship in life affects every individual differently—it is not a competition. No one loss is more impactful than another and no one challenge is bigger than another. My advice for someone in that situation is to know that there are people there for you willing to help. And for those who wish to help, to let people in need know that you are there for them and always will be. Even if sometimes someone in need may not reach out to you, you never know how much they may appreciate a text message, an email, a call, anything letting them know that you are thinking of them no matter what their challenge is.
Even if sometimes someone in need may not reach out to you, you never know how much they may appreciate a text message, an email, a call, anything letting them know that you are thinking of them no matter what their challenge is.
What do you wish people knew about losing someone who has served our country?
I wish that people knew how difficult it is to think about the fact that their loved one died so far away in a world filled and thriving on hate. I also wish people knew how hard it is to think about all that Derek could have accomplished in his life. I often struggle with the fact that Derek was killed in a land so crooked and evil, so different; I hope and pray different from anything that any of us will ever have to live in.
It pains me daily to know that Derek will never get to experience the joys of everything that his life would have held, things that we all take for granted. Getting married, becoming a father, raising amazing children just as his parents did, these opportunities were stripped from him on the sands of the deserts of Afghanistan. I wish this were not the case but it is the sad reality of life. I found solace in the fact that I know Derek died fighting for a cause that he believed in and trying to grant these same freedoms he had stripped from him to the people of Afghanistan and I hope someday this will be true.
It pains me daily to know that Derek will never get to experience the joys of everything that his life would have held, things that we all take for granted. Getting married, becoming a father, raising amazing children just as his parents did, these opportunities were stripped from him on the sands of the deserts of Afghanistan.
In addition to this, I wish that people knew just how hard it is for not only those who have lost someone who has served our country, but also for all military families and soldiers who have served or are currently serving our country. Obviously, our country does a far greater job honoring and taking care of our veterans than at any other time in our history but I think that sometimes people forget the fight still goes on. Think about the amount of pride and patriotism this country had in the early years after 9/11. Interstate bridges were decorated cheering on those fighting abroad, soldiers were welcomed home to a hero’s welcome, one which they deserved. Where did this go?
We see this patriotism every year at our Flag Day 5k Fundraiser but I think that we all can do a far greater job, myself included, to continue to support those who are fighting and those who are lucky to have returned. Often times soldiers are away from their families for a year to 18 months at a time, missing the births of children, missing out on whole time periods of their lives while protecting all of us. We as a country need to put down political beliefs and bring back that pride and patriotism we once had.
How did Derek live his life? How do you want him to be remembered?
Derek lived his life like none other. In 25 short years, he was able to accomplish more than most will accomplish in a lifetime. From my perspective, Derek was the most amazing older brother in the world. He is, was, and will forever be my hero and a hero to this country.
It is almost difficult to even begin to put into words how Derek lived his life and how I want him to be remembered. Derek was the most selfless, hard-working, determined person to have walked this earth. Standing at most five feet seven inches tall, Derek was able to achieve his lifelong goal of playing college hockey at West Point at a time when most D1 colleges were only recruiting guys six feet and above. While at West Point and playing hockey there, Derek learned valuable lessons on the ice, in the classroom, and in military training that would make him an incredible officer in our nation’s military.
After graduation, Derek was challenged by a close advisor to attend Ranger school, another challenge that he passed without having to recycle any stage. From there he was one of a very few selected to attend Airborne school before being assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Derek never quit and never gave up until his job was done. In speaking with those who served alongside Derek while in Afghanistan, they all tell us stories of the incredible officer that he was; how on every mission they went on Derek packed his rucksack heavier than men almost twice his size in order to pack candy, whiffle ball bats, and other supplies for the children of Afghanistan that our mother had sent him; how he was always willing to sleep on the floor and give up his bed for the men serving for him so that they could rest, going without just as our parents often did for us many years prior; how he was willing to do anything for those to his left and right even if that meant giving his own life.
Derek Hines was a warrior and a humanitarian who believed in his mission to provide a better life for the people of Afghanistan and protect the people of this great country. While in Afghanistan, Derek served in B Company aptly nicknamed Battle Company. Derek Hines battled his entire life to make himself and all those around them into the best people, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and soldiers that they could possibly be. He inspired everyone around him with his bravery and courage. Derek battled hard until his last breath when he took out a top-ranking Taliban informant. My family and I will never stop battling to honor him, sharing his story until the day we meet again.
Your family is involved in a nonprofit. Can you tell us more about your charity, how it was started, what you hope it will achieve? How can we help?
Yes, my family is involved in a nonprofit called the 1st Lt. Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance Foundation. The foundation was founded very shortly after Derek was killed in Afghanistan. The roots of the foundation really stem from two things: first, Derek and his care and compassion for the soldiers that served alongside him. When Derek was in Afghanistan, anytime one of his soldiers was injured in combat his biggest concern after winning the battle was who we knew in whatever area his soldiers ended up receiving medical assistance in that could go and visit them. Derek would send out emails to teammates, friends, coaches, teachers, and anyone who may be in the area while asking us to do the same.
The second piece relates back again to the great outpouring of support we received from our friends and the community. Shortly after Derek was killed many members of the hockey community, our local community, and places all over got together to put on a memorial golf tournament in Derek’s honor. This event raised an incredibly generous sum of money and served as the financial basis and foundation of the 1st Lt. Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance fund.
Over the years the foundation has grown and changed. Many of the initial founding members are now honorary board members and we thank all of them for their assistance in establishing the foundation we have today. The causes that we support additionally have changed over the years. Early on in the Iraq and Afghanistan war, when the number of soldiers being injured in combat was higher than it is today, our focus was on the physical wounds of local soldiers. As time has gone on and the numbers of those coming home with serious physical injuries have lessened our focus has shifted towards PTSD and veterans’ mental health. The statistic that over 20 veterans a day commit suicide is a statistic that our foundation would like to do all that we can to change.
Our mission statement is as follows: The 1st Lieutenant Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance fund intends to provide financial assistance for Massachusetts’ soldiers, and their families, who have incurred serious, career-ending, and life-altering injuries while on active duty.
This statement allows us to assist all soldiers who have been injured both physically and mentally. We have extended our reach to include soldiers outside of Massachusetts but generally focus our efforts on the New England area. What we hope to achieve is to continue to support local soldiers in need. Our main fundraising event is the Flag Day 5K held in our hometown of Newburyport, MA on the Saturday closest to Flag Day every year for the past seven years.
The Flag Day 5k has developed over the past seven years into an amazing community celebration honoring Derek and the things that he believed in: supporting veterans, service to others, and a belief in something greater than oneself. Each year thousands of classmates, teammates, veterans, family, and friends, all gather to honor Derek and keep his memory alive. Through this fundraiser and generous donations throughout the year we have been able to continue or work of bettering local soldiers’ lives.
To learn more about our foundation and to donate please visit, https://derekhinesfund.com/.