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Please note this interview includes graphic accounts of combat, violence, and mental health challenges. This interview with Willie Cleo Tillman, Jr. focuses on his tour of duty in the Army during the Vietnam War. His brother, Herbert Tillman, takes part in the interview too. Willie Tillman, a Black man, was born in Washington, DC, but soon moved with his family back to Rocky Mount, where he attended O.R. Pope Elementary School and then Booker T. Washington High School. [Tillman's brother Herbert interjects a story about a dog, and says that he enlisted first and encouraged Willie to join up too.] The brothers found themselves both at Fort Gordon in Georgia where they had minor trouble with the authorities for wanting to spend time together. Herbert was sent to Germany, but Willie was sent to Korea. He was stationed in the DMZ in -30 degrees weather. He was unnerved by propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts and frightening talk by the older soldiers and had a nervous breakdown while out on patrol (hallucinating and shooting at GI trucks). He was sent home to an Army hospital. After his release he was stationed at Fort Story in Norfolk. He was sent to Vietnam then, to Quin Yon and then Cu Chi where he had duty with another company loading and unloading supply ships in the harbor. He was soon sent to rejoin his real company, though, on the front lines. His descriptions of combat are vivid. They were under fairly constant mortar fire. Given the choice of digging foxholes by day in 130-degree heat or volunteering for night "suicide missions," he chose the latter, and was allowed to sleep during the day. He went on 19 such suicide missions, and on the last one got caught in quicksand and nearly died. After that he served as a Jeep gunner in field operations, and he recounts narrowly missing being blown up when a Colonel told him to move to a different spot; the Colonel and his driver took Tillman's spot and were immediately blown up. Willie and another soldier were ordered to risk their lives by going back and retrieving the Colonel's body, and only after that going to get the wounded but still-living PFC driver (they did both successfully), though Tillman thought this reflected poor priorities. He thinks about half his company was killed during this time. Since he had served three years and 20 days he was told he'd finished his obligation, but on the way to the base to be demobilized he got into a fight. He recounts his effort to get a good lawyer, and in fact he was acquitted and sent back to the U.S. with an honorable discharge. Tillman talks about feeling lost back in the States. He credits his brother Herbert with saving him.





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