Though disable due to an injury sustained during the Korean War, Franklin Tillman has not let his sacrifice for his country stand in the way of gaining his education.
“An education does not make a wise man,” said Franklin Tillman, Phillips County resident and Korean War veteran.
Tillman has a story to tell and it speaks volumes about a war that often has been called “The Forgotten War.” He is writing a book about that war and his experiences as 16 year-old entitled, “Baptized by the Fire in the Forgotten War.”
The United States took its first real interest in Korea during World War II in the context of discussions over how to dismantle the Japanese empire. While events that led up to the Korean War are complicated, the war officially started June 25, 1950. Tillman lost both his legs on Oct. 23, 1952 on Triangle Hill. He had just turned 21.
The U.S. 7th Infantry Division occupied a sector of the main line of resistance in central Korea near Kumhwa. Opposing the division, the Chinese 45th Division held elevations to the north, including Hill 598, also called Triangle Hill. Both sides were well dug-in.
The battle lines had not changed significantly in almost a year. For six months, the war played out as artillery and mortar exchanges and minor skirmishes that did little to change the situation. Tillman lost his legs to a mortar round on that hill in a hostile country.
“I was blown 500 feet into the air. A mortar round landed right between my feet,” said Tillman.
Although over half a century has passed, Tillman sees a bit of humor about that day.
“The day I became old enough to vote I lost my legs but I had a girlfriend,” he laughs as he tells his story.
To this day, Tillman searches for the men who saved his life. He says that after flying through the air and bouncing down the hill, someone saved him by applying a tourniquet to his injured legs.
“It’s never to late and I was wanting to thank them before I leave this life,” he said.
Tillman, born in an era when times were tough, dropped out of school in the sixth grade. A young family member was killed in an accident, devastating his family. Tillman made a decision that most youngsters today will never face.
“How could I stay in school? Daddy was out of work. We had no electricity,” he said.
During the funeral for the small boy who lost his life, Tillman said he screwed in light bulbs in the bare sockets so people would think they had electricity and did not turn on the lights out of respect for the child.
“Those were the days when you didn’t lock your doors in the county or Helena,” said Tillman as he remembered times gone but not forgotten.
Though he was faced with hardship, Tillman didn’t give up on gaining his education.
He completed his GED in the Army, attended college in a wheelchair and holds a Masters degree in rehabilitation counseling.
“An important part of education is high school English,” he said, hoping to inspire the next generation that faces the hardship of living in the depressed Arkansas Delta.
Tillman served on the front line for 5 years, 8 months and 14 days.
The Army retirement board gave him six years but Tillman says he is still a solider.
“I’ve been a solider since I was 16 and I’ll be a solider until the day I die,” he said.
Tillman, a member of the Veterans of Underage Military Service, says that although he was a very young solider, there are others who were fighting for their country at the tender young age of 13.