San Antonio Gold Star spouse says service has defined her life, aided her grief

Brig. Gen. Terrence Hildner was second-highest ranking officer to die while serving in Afghanistan

SAN ANTONIO – Cindy Hildner lives in San Antonio after she retired last year from serving 40 years as a civilian in the military.

“My father was a World War II soldier. He was drafted and went to Italy, where he met my mother,” Hildner said.

That’s why she was drawn to Brigadier Gen. Terrence Hildner, who had made service his life.

“Terry loved being a soldier. It was the thing that he enjoyed the most. He was known as a soldier’s soldier,” Hildner said.

She met her husband while both of them were helping care for an injured soldier’s family.

“He wanted to take me out to dinner and say ‘thank you’ for helping with the soldier. But we knew it was much more than that,” Hildner smiled.

She said her husband was known for his enthusiasm, dedication and compassion.

“He loved training soldiers. That’s what he’s known for. He was a forward thinker. He insisted on training for everybody,” she said.

He took that expertise to war, fighting in Desert Storm, serving twice in Iraq, and once in Afghanistan, where he died February 3, 2012 of an aortic aneurysm.

Brigadier Gen. Hildner was the second-highest ranking American officer to die while serving in Afghanistan.

“I was married to an incredible person, and not just because he was a soldier or an officer or a general officer. He was a good person. He had a kind soul,” Hildner said.

He left behind four children. Two of his sons were set to graduate high school when he passed away.

After his death, Hildner said she was in a fog and her first wave of relief came months into her grief, when she helped support another widow.

“I realized that I needed to help others, because I got so much by helping her, and she helped me. I thought, ‘This is the way, this is the path to heal,’” she said.

From there, Hildner got involved with organizations that help military and gold star families including TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) and Tuesday’s Children.

She joined Tuesday’s Children years ago and said it has changed her life.

The nonprofit started as an organization to help families of 9/11 first responders, but has expanded to helping all families grieving from losses due to military service, mass violence, or acts of terrorism.

“It is a wonderful, wonderful organization,” Hildner said. “They put on these retreats and they also do other things like sponsor basketball games, football games, hockey.”

Hildner hopes other grieving families will reach out for support.

She also hopes the public will think about these families, and remember that Memorial Day isn’t just about barbecues and the start of summer.

“It’s wonderful to celebrate all that, but also celebrate the fact that know you can do that because of those who lost their life trying to defend the freedom that we hold so dear,” she said.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.