Major Bob Tillman

As an African American paratrooper, Major Bob Tillman found a lot more comradery with his fellow white soldiers in the 171st Airborne Brigade than he had found back home in Georgia.  At the height of the civil rights movement, life in the deep South was difficult, and Tillman was sent overseas at the height of both the violence back home: 1966.

Not that Vietnam was any easier:  “I came out of one situation, and got into another.”
But in Vietnam, he says,  there was much less ‘looking at differences in skin color’, at least in his experiences.  “It was a tremendous brotherhood, and it still is today.  We were all equals—paratroopers doing our duty.”

After being discharged, he came to Detroit, in part because of the phenomenal sounds that were coming out of Motown.  This music, he felt, was the pulse of the African American experience in the Sixties.

“The first time I heard the song ‘My Girl’ by the Temptations, I was in Vietnam.  I sat in amazement of the awesome power and majestic sounds of the song I had just heard.  Now, over forty years later, that song still resonates and brings back a flood of memories.”

As a proud Vietnam vet, he feels that he owes a special debt of gratitude to Barry Gordy and the whole ‘Motown Family’

“By the grace of God, they were helping hands that allowed a lot of us vets to survive the war—by allowing us to keep a sense of sanity.  For us, Motown music was very much a ‘bridge over troubled waters.’

He likely means the Aretha Franklin version.


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