Col. Erland A. Tillman, a decorated Army officer and noted civil engineer who helped design the Maryland Transit Administration's Metro subway from Owings Mills into downtown Baltimore, died of complications from heart failure Sept. 6 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.
The longtime resident of Brightwood Retirement Community was 101.
"He had two 28-year careers, both successful," said Russell Tillman, a nephew who lives in Mississippi. "He was an interesting man."
Colonel Tillman was born in Iowa, then raised in Minnesota, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where his father was a Lutheran minister.
He studied civil engineering and took ROTC at the University of Rhode Island, then known as Rhode Island State College. He obtained a bachelor's degree at 19 and a master's at 20.
In 1937, Mr. Tillman scored well enough on a competitive national exam to win one of 11 newly created positions in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — and his commission as a second lieutenant.
Colonel Tillman spent the first year of the war building military camps and airfields in Texas and Oklahoma. He was then named commander of the 322nd Engineer Battalion of the 97th Infantry Division.
The unit played a key role as the division helped the Allies win the decisive Battle of Ruhr Pocket in 1945. Under then-Lieutenant Colonel Tillman's command, the 322nd built seven bridges and repaired three others, cleared minefields and engaged in military action over a five-day span, allowing Allied forces and supplies to flow across the Sieg River into the area.
The fight helped cement the liberation of western Czechoslovakia during the final months of the war.
The Czech Republic never forgot Colonel Tillman's heroics. When he turned 100, that nation's defense minister recognized him for "his brave actions that contributed to the liberation … from the Nazi occupation," in a statement issued by its U.S. embassy.
A military attache from the Czech Republic's embassy in Washington presented him with a medal during a birthday dinner at Brightwood.
His later service included working with the 8th Army staff in Korea, the NATO staff in Turkey and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C., where he was a faculty member.
When he retired from the military in 1965, Colonel Tillman received the Legion of Merit Medal for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements."
At the time, his second career was just beginning. Over the next 28 years, Colonel Tillman emerged as a force in creating rapid-transit metro systems in American cities.
In 1965, he became director of engineering for the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) in San Francisco, where he oversaw construction of that multimillion-dollar rail-and-subway network through its completion in 1973.
He followed that with a Chicago project that would have put that city's elevated rapid-transit train system underground. It was abandoned after a year.
In 1974, he moved to Baltimore to join Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall, the consulting group designing the Baltimore Metro subway system, to originate in Owings Mills and travel through Baltimore, ending at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The system's first line, a 7.6-mile segment between Reisterstown Plaza in Northwest Baltimore and the Charles Center building in the city, opened in 1983. The 14-station, 15.5-mile system was completed in 1995, eight years after Colonel Tillman retired. He continued to work for several years as a consultant.
Russell Tillman, who became a civil engineer largely due to his uncle's influence, said he once thought of Colonel Tillman as a "nuts-and-bolts" engineer, but the more he studied his uncle's work, the more he understood his uncle had a larger vision.
"He wanted to build things that were practical, that could be used with ease by large numbers of people," said his nephew, who also works with the Army Corps of Engineers. "Those interests go far beyond engineering. Whatever he had to learn to get that accomplished — physics, design, the dynamics of moving people — he did."
After his wife of 61 years, Lynn Little Tillman, died in 2001, Colonel Tillman worked to keep connections strong among various branches of the family, Russell Tillman said, a network of relations that includes nieces and nephews in Texas and New Mexico and cousins in Sweden, the birth country of Colonel Tillman's parents.
When he was 91, Colonel Tillman orchestrated a family trip to Sweden. "He was leading all of us around," said his nephew.
About 40 people attended Colonel Tillman's 100th birthday party last year, including several relatives from Sweden, and the group went to Colonel Tillman's church, St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lutherville, afterward to light 100 candles in his honor.
Colonel Tillman lived in the Chartwell community in Severna Park for 20 years and moved to Brightwood in 1994.
Family members are working out details of a memorial service to be held Sept. 28 at St. Paul's Lutheran, 1609 Kurtz Ave. in Lutherville. Colonel Tillman will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.
Survivors include numerous nephews and a niece.
Survivors include numerous nephews and a niece.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun