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Above and Beyond the Call of Duty: Charles Leon Gilliland

Updated: May 12, 2021

During the wars of Korea and Vietnam hundreds of Arkansas residents served overseas, and a number of them distinguished themselves sacrificially winning the Congressional Medal of Honor. To honor and respect these brave Arkansans, we have placed them in a special section of the exhibit called The Honor Wall. We have highlighted seven of these Medal of Honor recipients. These are the men who have given everything for our country and our freedom. We owe them a debt which we can never repay. As a part of honoring their legacy, I am going to post a short biography of one of them every week, so that everyone-not just those that attend the exhibit- can remember them.

In 1933, Charles Leon Gilliland was born in Colfax, Arkansas at the height of the Great Depression. He and his family eventually moved to Yellville where he spent the rest of his growing up years. Gilliland loved the outdoors. His favorite activities included hunting, fishing, and even bodybuilding. He would lift rocks, anvils, and younger siblings over his head which greatly strengthened his muscles. From an exceedingly early age, Gilliland was destined for military service earnestly studying every facet of military life. When he turned sixteen, he asked his parents for permission to enlist in the US Army. After pestering them for months, they finally gave in, allowing him to enlist when he was seventeen. Shortly after, he was shipped off to train at Fort Riley, Kansas. Following a short stint home, Gilliland was then packed off to Korea. He was a part of the Army’s Third Infantry Division, Seventh Infantry Regiment, Company I. April 25, 1951, Gilliland and his unit were engaged in an aggressive firefight in Tongmang-ni, Korea. He received a severe head wound, but still continued to fight courageously urging his men to do the same. When it became apparent that they would have to move to a different position, Gilliland volunteered to stay behind drawing enemy fire away from his unit. His body was never recovered. For his courage and sacrifice, Charles Leon Gilliland was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1954. His Medal of Honor Citation is as follows:

Cpl. Gilliland, a member of Company I, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. A numerically superior hostile force launched a coordinated assault against his company perimeter, the brunt of which was directed up a defile covered by his automatic rifle. His assistant was killed by enemy fire, but Cpl. Gilliland, facing the full force of the assault, poured a steady fire into the foe, which stemmed the onslaught. When two enemy soldiers escaped his raking fire and infiltrated the sector, he leaped from his foxhole, overtook and killed them both with his pistol. Sustaining a serious head wound in this daring exploit, he refused medical attention and returned to his emplacement to continue his defense of the defile. His unit was ordered back to new defensive positions, but Cpl. Gilliland volunteered to remain to cover the withdrawal and hold the enemy at bay. His heroic actions and indomitable devotion to duty prevented the enemy from completely overrunning his company positions. Cpl. Gilliland's incredible valor and supreme sacrifice reflect lasting glory upon himself and are in keeping with the honored traditions of the military service.

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