Col. Bill Hatch, who made his career as an Army soldier and leader, passed away at home last May at age 68.

An unassuming man, Bill traveled across the world with his family, but made Atascadero home for Ann, his wife and soulmate of 38 years, and their children, Bill Hatch II, Ashley, and India.

Bill’s military accomplishments are numerous and impressive. He is perhaps best known in the community for having commanded both Camp San Luis Obispo and Camp Roberts and for spearheading the effort that established the Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial in Atascadero.

But his most lasting impact was on people, many of whom came forward after his passing to express their feelings:

Al Fonzi

“Bill was a soldier’s soldier,” said veteran Al Fonzi. “He loved his country, his family, and his soldiers. He always put them first and fought for them against the bureaucracy whenever it was necessary. I remember his infectious laugh and grin, his storytelling, and dedication to his troops. He was a true ‘servant-leader’ who always put the welfare of his troops ahead of any personal concern.

“Bill was a decorated combat veteran, an Apache Attack Helicopter Battalion commander during the Gulf War in Iraq in 1991. His unit was one of the first units to cross into Iraq to take on the notorious Iraqi Republican Guard Armored forces arrayed against U.S. Forces in the desert. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is the airman’s equivalent for the Silver Star, awarded for Gallantry in Action. I miss him every day.”

Tom O’Malley

“Col. Hatch was a big support to our family when our son, Trevor, was at West Point,” said the former mayor of Atascadero. “When a group of about 20 of us conceptualized the Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial project in Atascadero, the vote for Bill to head the effort was unanimous. His style of leadership was of coming alongside others and connecting their efforts. The memorial project really helped him become known within the community as a personable, perceptive, insightful person, and a solid leader.”

Joe Lovelace

“I met and worked for Col. Hatch in 2002 when he commanded the 223rd RTI in SLO,” said the Iraq War veteran. “He was an exceptional leader who simply inspired others around him because he always put others before himself. To describe him and his life in a single word would be ‘impactful.’ He genuinely embodied all facets of leadership and positively influenced everyone around him. I would follow that man to hell with a gallon of gas strapped to my back, because I know he would get us out,” Joe said. “I am eternally grateful for having known him.”

Bill Hatch II

“The colonel always used to say that ‘leadership is a contact sport.’ He loved soldiers and their families, and he was always serving somebody — whether it was commanding an attack helicopter in Operation Desert Storm, as Chief of U.S. Army Aviation in South Korea, mentoring and training soldiers, as a Kiwanis member for 19 years, or speaking to local students on their field trips about the Atascadero Veterans Memorial. He always set high standards, led by example, and never asked anyone to do what he wasn’t willing to do himself,” said Col. Hatch’s son, a former Marine Corps captain.

Ashley (Hatch) Silveira

“Dad was never too big for anyone, nor was anyone too small for him — he was the same, no matter who you were. He never gave up on me. If I felt any distance, it was of my own making. He always let me find my own path, but how much I listened to his guidance determined the degree of difficulty. The only thing I wish were different was that I had more time,” Ashley said. “I wish more people could have had a dad like him. If I accomplished 25 percent of what he did and performed it half as well, I’d call my life a success.”

India (Hatch) Furber

“Our dad served his country for 42 years with so much dedication and honor. During that time, he served his family by being the most incredible role model and loving father. We didn’t realize he could outdo his already impeccable military career and his fatherly love until we saw him become a ‘pawpaw.’ He loves his grandchildren more than anything in this mortal world. Our dad’s love for his grandchildren was palpable and you could see the joy in his eyes as the swelled with happy tears watching four babies bounce around his home. There is no love like the love of our father.

Ann Hatch

“Sometimes, in the course of one’s life you get to meet someone extraordinary,” Col. Hatch’s wife said. “I was honored and blessed to marry that someone. Bill was my real-life ‘Officer and a Gentleman.’ I was drawn to his stories, his penchant for retelling history, and his ability to make me laugh. He was the dashing army pilot with a heart of a lion and a spirit for adventure. He showed determination, love, and commitment to soldiers and family that I’d only imagined. But I was most impressed that he always chose to do ‘the harder right over the easier wrong.’ He will be remembered for inspiring others to be better than even they thought possible. He touched the lives of many, and he is forever missed.”