Member Salute: Dr. E. Bruce Heilman

The Harley Ultra Classic Electra Glide Patriot Edition is cherried out with red and blue stripes and the Corps’ emblem on the gas tank. A USMC flag flies on the back. Dr. E. Bruce Heilman cruises on the motorcycle with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblazoned on his leathers as he rides from coast to coast to visit his first alma mater – MCRD San Diego. 

Raised on a farm in Kentucky, Heilman knew a lot about early mornings and hard work but wasn’t exactly interested in academics. He left high school to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1944 at just 17 years old.

“I was the youngest and the smallest, but I had the best eye,” he said.

So he was slated with a tail gunner MOS, sent to gunner school and then shipped to Okinawa at the height of World War II. His outfit was set to invade Japan in six weeks when the United States dropped the historic two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I still have the clipping from the newspaper,” he said.

Heilman’s unit was in charge of disarming the Japanese forces and reestablishing Hiroshima when it was still hot with radioactive material. Heilman stayed in the Corps for four years and exited as a sergeant.

After the Corps, Heilman found his new passion in education. He used the G.I. bill to get his bachelor’s degree and continued to earn a master’s degree and then a Ph.D; all from Peabody College, a part of Vanderbilt University.

Heilman had several teaching and administration positions at colleges around the country. He was the Vice President and Dean of Arts and Sciences at Kentucky Southern College. He also served as president of Meredith College from 1966 to 1971. He became president of the University of Richmond in 1971 until 1986.

He currently holds the position of Chancellor at the University of Richmond but doesn’t plan on taking it easy in his pseudo-retirement.

“I thrive on being busy,” Heilman said. “I grew up on country work and then joined the Marine Corps so I work all the time and enjoy it.”

A lot of that work he does is to benefit the Marine Corps for future generations and also reconnect with Marines of the past. He was a member of the Marine Military Academy and the Marine Corps University for 16 years. He was highly involved with the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for 14 years to build the National Museum of the Marine Corps that now stands in Quantico, Virginia.

“I’ve always been proud to be part of the Corps,” Heilman said.

Heilman is also a member of the Marine Corps Association & Foundation and says it’s important he reads his Leatherneck Magazine each month to stay current in the Corps.

“It represents the desire to stay engaged and be knowledgeable about who is in charge and what is happening,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to rub shoulders with Marines of today and Marines of the past.”

And now he is spreading that pride across the country. He received his Harley as a 50th anniversary present from his late wife, Betty. They had five children together and shared their 65th wedding anniversary last year before she passed.

He now rides on the open road to share the Marine Corps message as part of the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, International. He traveled the 3,000-mile trip from Virginia to revisit his old stomping grounds at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. He also makes sure he attends the Marine Corps Ball each year in his dress blues.

What’s his next road trip? Heilman says he plans to venture on his motorcycle to Hawaii and Alaska. And it’s anyone’s guess as to where his Harley and his blues will take him for the next Marine Corps birthday. 

- Roxanne Baker