Walking into the recreation area of the Ardmore Veteran Affairs Center, one can see the smiling faces of those who have given their lives for the American dream.
Wednesday was National Purple Heart Day, where former and current military service members are given the rightful praise they deserve for the sacrifices made for their country.
Five former military personnel were recognized for their bravery and sacrifices on Wednesday, ranging from their time spent in Korea and Vietnam.
The Carter County VA Administrator  Shawn Kirkland spoke on the heroics displayed by the Purple Heart recipients, and how special hosting the event was.
“It means the world to me,” Kirkland said. “These guys sacrificed so we get to have what we have today because of them. It is my honor to get to do these kind of things to recognize them as much as we possibly can.”
Jessie Gentry, Curtis Tillman, Michuel Seeley, Elvis “Tony” Roebucks and Dale Wayne Paxton all received special recognition from Kirkland during a speech.
Once the speech was finished, punch and cookies were served to the veterans in the room, as well as those in attendance.
Located in the center of the room, Tillman could be seen fraternizing with those around him.
His voice was deep and could be heard over the others. Originally from Oklahoma City,
His gray beard peppered along his face, showing his age and wisdom. Centrally located in the room, donning his Purple Heart hat and walking cane, Tillman could be described as a man with a story to tell.
Tillman, like most men his age at the time, was drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War in 1967, joining the infantry group called 18 Big Red 1.
During his time in the service, Tillman received several medals and badges of honor, including: A Vietnam Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal,  a Combat Infantry Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and ultimately a Purple Heart.
“I had the opportunity to go to quite a few places when I was in the service that I never would have went if they didn’t draft me,” Tillman said. “ I don’t regret it now, but I did at first.”
His regrets changed as he got older based on his experiences during the war. Tillman said how he would hate to see another country come into America to inflict harm on his loved ones.
A married man, a family man, Tillman saw fighting for the military against foreign evils as a way to protect his loved ones.
Even in his golden years, his patriotism for the United States is as strong as ever.
“As old as I am now, I’d go back,” Tillman said. “With my knowledge now, I think I could help. I would be willing to give up my life and my way of life around here now for that.”
One of the things Tillman was adamant about getting across to civilians was asking for them to understand what it was like for the soldiers overseas.
Nowhere to be found, unless they were in Saigon, were normal amenities like a real bed or even Coca-Cola. The struggle to adapt was one of the hardest things for Tillman and his infantry mates.
After spending close to a year in Vietnam, one of the most memorable days of Tillman’s life would occur.
Like normal, Tillman was the point man for his infantry group and leading them through the jungle. Tillman expressed his displeasure with leading the group with his superiors, because he felt it put him in harms way.
“They used to smooth it out by saying, ‘You are more observant than the rest of these guys,’” Tillman said. “You can handle yourself under pressure and we like the way you stay on top of watching for everything.’”
On this fateful day, while Tillman was in front, another infantry mate stepped on a landmine shooting Tillman and others into the air.
Scared, with his backside full of shrapnel, Tillman expected the worst.
“I thought I was really hurt, I thought I was dead,” Tillman said. “I am a pretty good-sized guy and to be lifted that high in the air and spinning around like I was. Then when I fell to the ground, it took a little while for the debris to fall back on me and covered me up real quick. Kind of like buried alive, I just thought I don’t know bad I am hurt but I know I am hit.”
Tillman was rushed to a medic where they pulled the shrapnel out of his back. He was then transferred to Saigon for around six months before finally being sent to Fort Hood, Texas.
After military life, the transition was hard for Tillman and other Vietnam veterans. During the time period, major protests were happening around the United States against the war and its veterans, something which has always hurt Tillman.
“It was sickening and embarrassing,” Tillman said. “My loved ones had open arms and were glad to see me and everything, but you always heard that little mumbling in the background.”
Following his military career, Tillman worked at AT&T until his retirement.
There are an estimated two million people that have received Purple Hearts in this country, just like Tillman.
Celebrating those that have given everything on days like National Purple Heart day is a small way to pay respects to the recipients, but it is appreciated.
“It feels great, it feels real good,” Tillman said. “I never get no recognition for what I did over in Vietnam and the little bit I do get is real brief. Something like this is kind of unexpected, but it is a beautiful thing to have happened.”