A May 4 Sports article about the funeral service for Pat Tillman contained an incorrect middle initial for Mary E. Frye. (Published 5/6/04)
The family and friends of Pat Tillman, most of whom remained respectfully silent after the former Arizona Cardinals safety was killed last month while fighting in Afghanistan, came together Monday for a public memorial service that was at once moving, humorous, and, at times, sweetly profane.
For some 21/2 hours, a collection of politicians, soldiers, professional football players, childhood friends, coaches and close relatives walked to a podium beneath a broiling sun at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden to honor Tillman, who was 27 and had walked away from a $3.6 million contract extension offered by the Cardinals to volunteer for the U.S. Army.
The afternoon's final speaker was Tillman's father, Patrick Tillman Sr., a local attorney. "I'm last, and I miss my son," he told the crowd of approximately 3,000. "It's only been a week and it ain't getting any better." Tillman, his voice breaking, said he wanted to leave his sunglasses on "because it makes me feel like you can't see me."
He added: "I don't know a lot about what happened to Pat, and a lot of the details I really don't care about. I'll find out what the stuff is later on, but I know enough to know that Pat was going at it the way he was always going at it, the way he enjoyed it."
The service, held in the town where Tillman grew up, was the only public event held by his family. Through spokesmen, the family had said it did not want Tillman singled out over other soldiers who have died during the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The service was a memorial to a self-effacing man who by all accounts shunned pretense and glitter, but nonetheless became a national hero. Several speakers remarked that Tillman, a Ranger, himself would have wondered why it was necessary. His younger brother, Spc. Kevin Tillman, a minor league second baseman with the Cleveland Indians who left professional baseball to fight with his brother, attended but did not speak.
Tillman's youngest brother, Richard, an aspiring comedian, took the podium wearing jeans and a T-shirt and holding a pint of Guinness beer. "I didn't write [anything], because I'm not a writer," he said. He read "Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep," a 1932 poem by Mary K. Frye:
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there,
I did not die.
After he finished, Tillman, the partially quaffed beer still in his hand, jumped down from the stage to take his seat with his family.
"For all of us here in the front row, this [expletive] sucks!" said Alex Garwood, Tillman's brother-in-law. "And what sucks is we lost Pat."
Garwood, in rapid-fire cadences, then launched into a touching, often hilarious soliloquy about his brother-in-law, whom he said once woke up early during a family vacation in Ireland just so he could persuade a bartender to pour Garwood an early-morning beer on his birthday. "He said that when his buddy woke up in Ireland on his birthday, he'd wanted him to have a pint of Guinness. That was Pat Tillman," said Garwood.
"Pat had a wonderful sense of humor," said Garwood. "We all thought so, and the person who thought he was the funniest was Pat. He thought he was hysterical. And he had an infectious and booming laugh. I can't do it justice. But his head would roll back, and his hands would go wide and he'd be knocking stuff over. His eyes would get all slanty. And he would use that laugh any time. If you were in a restaurant, and people were disturbed, he'd be like, 'I don't know why you're not laughing?'
"He had a Christmas sweater and pink slippers and kimono; he wore them together. And he'd often talk about how blond his hair was. When it was cool to have it short, he wore it long. And when it was cool to have it long, he wore it short. He was tremendously proud of his mono-brow, which I never really got. And he thought there was a conspiracy by all those people who were tall against those who were short, like him."
Garwood said that Tillman was his son's godfather, along with another male friend. With no godmother present, Tillman decided to show up dressed as a woman, Garwood said. "The single best thing about Pat? He made you feel alive," said Garwood.
Steve White, a Navy Seal who served in Iraq with Tillman on a previous mission, described him as "one of the most remarkable human beings I've ever met. . . . When a little voice in your head tells you not to do the easiest thing, but the right thing, that's Pat, right in your ear, man."
"1976-2004: that one little dash in there represents a life," added White. "How do we spend our dash?"
Jeff Hechtle grew up with Tillman in San Jose and called him "my best friend." His voice breaking, he read a letter he wrote to Tillman after he heard he had died:
"With all the different distractions around us, how living your beliefs came so easy to you I will never know," he wrote. "One of the most valuable things you taught me is for the most part there is no such a thing as dark or light gray. Decisions in life are either black and white. By trying to find a shade of gray, we only weaken our character. By you always choosing the right color, it strengthened my character."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was described as Tillman's hero, was represented by his wife, Maria Shriver. After reading a letter from Schwarzenegger, who was unable to attend because he was visiting troops in Germany, Shriver, the daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, read a letter she said she wrote to Tillman after his death.
"Pat, 43 years ago, in his inaugural address, my uncle, President John F. Kennedy, speaking for his generation . . . made a suggestion to all generations: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," said Shriver. "By your deeds, by the choices you made, Pat, you and so many other young Americans have lived those words."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said Tillman led by example.
"Pat's best service to us all was to remind us what courage really looks like," he said.
Tillman's family asked that donations be sent to the Pat Tillman Foundation, P.O. Box 20053, San Jose, Calif., 95160.
Researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.