Of strong Irish heritage, Mr Harry McKillop was born and raised in the U.S and served as a naval officer aboard the USS Phoenix in the Pacific during World War II. He is an accomplished airline executive by profession and his family originally came from Ballycastle on the north-eastern coast of Ireland and went to US in the 1890s.
Mr McKillop's humanitarian campaigns began dramatically in 1969 when he directed and managed the massive logistics of a high-profile trip of the wives of American Prisoners of War to Vietnam to provide supplies and relief to US POWs there. While the supplies never made it through to the American POWs, a strong message to the world did. More importantly, the POWs themselves heard of the effort, and for them it was a critical sign of caring and hope, and sparked renewed will to make it the rest of the way.
Mr. McKillop made additional trips to Vietnam in the 1970's and 1980's, as well as Laos and Cambodia, to continue the search for and ultimately the return of, missing American soldiers. While Mr. McKillop himself was never part of the spotlight, his work definitely was, as world attention was repeatedly focused on the trips and the plight of American POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam War.
Mr. McKillop's interest and tireless efforts in helping other Americans and supporters continued long afterwards, including the recovery of 170 Nung Vietnamese from High Island, Hong Kong for relocation to the United States and assisting a family of six in their escape to the United States during the Kosovo Crisis. He still pursues active searches today on a global basis. One of many examples is that of Mr. McKillop's efforts to bring Marjorie Fuller home to America. Ms. Fuller was a young lady living in China with her parents prior to World War II. When the Japanese invaded China, she was taken as a Prisoner of War for the entire war. After the war, she was so embarrassed by this experience that she chose to remain in China. The Chinese decided she was a CIA agent (she was not) and held her in prison for over 40 years. Harry McKillop learned about Ms. Fuller and over an extended period of time, he convinced the Chinese to release her, and personally brought her to the United States and arranged for her to live in a retirement home in Baltimore, Maryland where she wanted to live. Harry visited Ms. Fuller once a month until she passed away in 2006. Because she had no family, Mr. McKillop had her buried in his family's private burial plot in McKinney, Texas.
Harry McKillop continues to pursue additional leads for POWs and, in particular, eight men whom he believes are still alive from the Vietnam War. He is also still involved in locating and returning the remains of Ambassador Raul Wallenberg, a World War II protector of refugees, to his Swedish homeland; resolving a purported kidnapping and incarceration in Costa Rica; and locating an MIA pilot in the Middle East.
President George W. Bush honoured Harry E. McKillop for more than 40 years of unselfish service to Americans in need around the world. For his humanitarianism and patriotic service, Mr. McKillop was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service.
The Harry McKillop Irish Spirit Award was established by Mr Ross Perot in 2003 to honour the life and work of Mr. McKillop, whose lifelong commitment to high principles and "Irish Spirit" values has fuelled his dedication to helping people and saving lives. Each year the award is given to a person of Irish or Irish-American descent, selected by the Award's Trustees, the Ireland Funds and the Dublin and Belfast Chambers of Commerce in recognition of the individual's exemplary acts of humanitarianism. Previous recipients have included Jean Kelly, founder the Speedwell Trust, a voluntary organisation working for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and Fr Peter McVerry, founder of the Peter McVerry Trust in Dublin.
Mr McKillop has supported a wide range of initiatives across the island of Ireland, including cross-community projects in Northern Ireland. Mr McKillop has given extensive service to the University of Limerick through his membership of the Board of the UL Foundation, the philanthropic body dedicated to supporting the University in the achievement of its mission. He has visited the campus frequently and provided guidance with regard to significant ventures and future planning for the University, acting as an advocate for the University in his considerable network of contacts in the business, industrial and political worlds and providing support for a range of initiatives on campus, including the development of the Foundation, medical research and cultural events. Mr. McKillop was one of three pioneering visionaries who created the world's first Industrial Airport at Alliance Texas, working with Mr Ross Perot and Mr Ross Perot Jr to turn thousands of acres of farmland and disused tockyards into a thriving distribution and e-commerce centre, creating thousands of new jobs and building new residential communities with billions of dollars in new investment and economic impact. He has actively supported a wide range of new investment and development projects in Ireland and is at this time promoting similar development and renewal initiatives in Ireland.