James Savon Tillman Sr. was born on 11/22/1919 in Wellon, Florida to the late Pastor Oscar T. Tillman and Mother Zipporah Tillman. He was the fourth of twelve children, Wayman, Luegratha, Levirda, John, Hattie, Frank, Bernice, Edward, Dorothy, Leroy and Catherine. Of that number, one is living, Bernice, Lee of Pittsburgh, PA. Elder James lived in Sawnee Florida, Winston Salem North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Claysburg, Pennsylvania, Turtle Creek, PA, the Hill District, PA and resided in Homewood-Brushton, PA at the time of his passing. Elder James has always been a hard worker. As a child, he worked several odd jobs to help provide for his parents and even sent his other money to help the family after he enlisted in the service.
On September 15, 1945, he married his childhood sweetheart Mamie Sloan. To this union, were born four children; The late James S. Tillman Jr., Charles E. Tillman, Linda E. Jones and Marcia A. Stinson.
Pastor James enlisted into the U.S. Army on November 23, 1942 and began his military training at Fort Meade, MD. The black American troops learned how to live in the desert and march through the mountains while based at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He enlisted during a segregated era when even black units had white officers. Since the civil war, it had been customary for white troops to command black American troops. This continued after the civil war when Buffalo Soldiers played an important role in suppressing the plains Indian troops. There are many explanations for how the Buffalo Soldiers received their name. The Indians gave them their name, because their hair resembled the buffalo hide they used to clothe themselves. Black soldiers were scorned by white commanders and deemed unfit for combat. The pride of Sergeant James Tillman helped him to endure racist attitudes. Even with oppression, he was very proud to serve. After his training, he landed in Naples in August of 1944.
He led a 7-man mortar squad, giving firing orders by walkie talkies. Quite often, after a day of fighting, he would walk two miles each way with his men for food, supplies and troops over the mountains where paths military jeeps and trucks could not travel.
Elder James became a follower of Christ on December 24, 1944 on a mountain in Northern Italy awaiting imminent battle against German troops. He found a quiet spot in the snow and prayed and asked God to spare his life. He recalled many veterans losing their life and limbs and did not want to suffer the same. He made a vow to the Lord that if he survived the war, he would devote his life to the “tough church”, pastored by his father...a church of true holiness where he could not smoke, drink alcohol or run around. He believed that God spared him as his unit was relieved by a less experienced regiment one day prior, resulting in heavy casualties in a battle with the Germans on December 26, 1944.
Elder James was very proud to serve and protect his country. He wanted to be in good standing and believed in service – leaving the army with the rank of sergeant. He received several decorations that include: The Combat Infantryman's Badge, The Good Conduct Medal and The European Theater of Operations Ribbon. He was honorably discharged on November 28, 1945.
On March 19, 1995, the Ninety Second Infantry Division WWII honored two Pittsburgh soldiers in Downtown, Pittsburgh, PA. Sergeant James Tillman was one of the honored soldiers and on that day, the Council of the City of Pittsburgh declared March 19, 1995 as Buffalo Solider Day in the City of Pittsburgh. He was invited by President Bush to attend the dedication of the WWII monument in Washington.
He was a motivational speaker who served his community well, often visiting schools giving speeches and educating the youth about the Buffalo Soldiers and his experiences.
After returning home from the service, he settled down with his wife, raised a family and began working closely with his father in the church, serving as his assistant pastor. For 39 years, he served as assistant pastor to his father Pastor O.T. Tillman who was the founder of Refuge COGIC. Pastor James was the Pastor of Refuge COGIC for 23 years before the Lord called him home.
Elder James was very faithful in the church. He held positions as trustee, deacon. Elder James loved music and even started the first choir. Even at the age of 98, he still had a very strong voice and loved to sing.
Elder James was an anointed man of God, blessed by the grace of God. Preaching and proclaiming the gospel for most of his life and showed the love of God in so many ways. “I'm not an ordinary man” and “God's been good to me” he would state, giving God all the credit and glory for preserving his life.
He was a family man and loved and provided for them. He loved the Lord; the church and especially the grand ole Churchof God In Chist.
He leaves to cherish countless memories Mamie, hisfaithful and devoted wife of 72 years; three children - Charles, Linda and Marcia; one daughter-in-law (Karen), two sons-in-law (Fred and Demetrius), ______ grandchildren , _____ great grands, _____ great-great grands; sister Bernice Lee and brother-in-law Raymond Lee; sister-in-law Gail Pratt-Tillman; and a host of nephews and nieces. One son and grandson preceded him in death, James. S. Tillman Sr. and Dorian J. Tillman. He also leaves a loving church family and cherished friends.