"He's a great guy. Extremely competent and extremely bright," Hirshauer said.

Tillman's contribution to the Allied war effort during the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, in March 1945, is chronicled in G.I. Stories — http://www.lonesentry.com/gi_stories/index.html — a series of booklets first published by Stars & Stripes in 1944 and 1945:

"Back at the Sieg River, the 322nd Engr. Bn., commanded by Lt. Col. Erland A. Tillman, Fort Collins, Colo., undertook the tremendous job of building an adequate number of bridges to accommodate the flow of supplies and reinforcements across the river."

The story details how the unit, with the help of two others, constructed seven bridges and repaired several others critical to the movement of troops.

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"Engineers also were faced with the task of clearing mine fields," according to the G.I. Stories account. "At times, they fought as infantrymen to accomplish their mission.

"As the 97th moved onward to the Bavarian forest in April 1945, and prepared for the invasion that would liberate Czechoslovakia, they stumbled on Flossenburg, a notorious SS concentration camp and forced labor center where many of the Third Reich's political prisoners, including the Lutheran clergyman and outspoken anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were executed."

Tillman still has vivid memories of that grim discovery nearly three-quarters of a century later.

"We went into one of those camps, all right," said Tillman, himself the son of a Lutheran minister, in a half-whisper. "The people there were in bad shape. It was shocking, it really was. You wouldn't believe it if you saw it."

Hirshauer said the strength and stoicism that got men and women like Tillman through the war is what sets their generation apart from many of us who have followed.

"It's an honor to know the man," said Hirshauer of Tillman, the admiration and reverence palpable in the tone of his voice. "People who know him love him."