Thursday, December 23, 2004

An Open Letter to Mrs. Pat Tillman

Dear Mrs. Pat Tillman,

I am writing a long overdue letter to express my sympathies and heartfelt condolences on the death of your husband (see Time magazine). I cannot express to you how I was moved by the sacrifice made by Mr. Tillman on behalf of our country and it’s citizens.

If I could spend 5 minutes with you and if it would not be too personally painful for you, I would ask you to tell me about your husband. Very few Americans these days, including myself, have ever had the honor and privilege to meet anyone they could actually refer to as a "hero." In our modern world of artificially important and superficial accomplishments, we are relegated to thinking of much lesser men promoted as "heroes." Baseball players that pitch in the World Series with a bad ankle or actors who fall off horses and become advocates of spinal cord research are labeled in the mass media as "heroes." Apparently, some polled on the Internet are so unfamiliar with the concept of heroism that they chose to vote for a singer who, like so many people in America, rose above their poverty to win a popular talent competition on television. (BeliefNet) That is hardly heroism; that is America and what this country offers anyone. And that is what your husband fought to defend.

Your husband was so much more, Mrs. Tillman. I would want to know what he talked about with his friends or at night before he went to sleep. What books did he like to read? I would want to know what he ate for breakfast and what he prayed for at night. I would want to know if he ever told you about a dream and, if it was not to personal, what he dreamed. What was his favorite subject in school? Did he ever give a speech that I might find on the Internet? I would certainly be enriched by whatever words he delivered in that speech. What sort of things did he keep in his football locker and on his mantle?

Do these sound like silly questions? I am sure they do. But I would really treasure the information. You see, Mrs. Tillman, this is true "hero worship." Your husband was worthy of that sort of respect and, if I may dare say it in these times, awe. The questions are all designed to give me an idea of what makes a person like Pat Tillman. Men like him, so sparse in our world, are to be examined and thought of often.

Who among us would give up so much to serve his country? I am old enough to remember stories of a couple of generations back when men gave up much and volunteered to give up their comforts and, if necessary, their lives in defense of their country. I consider Ted Williams and Bob Feller heroes. They left their sport (baseball) in the prime of their careers and left their privileged lives behind to face death in World War II. But they were lucky enough to return from war alive and resumed their careers. I am truly sorry that your husband made even a greater sacrifice.

I am also sorry that, in order to find someone to even remotely compare to Mr. Tillman that I have to go so far back in our history. With all the men and women that have died for their country since World War II, we have few that had the conviction to serve and left behind so much. Lest I be misunderstood, I consider all the men and women who have served and died defending their country my heroes. They all made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. They gave up their future, their families and their lives for what they believed in, just like your husband.

But Mr. Tillman’s singular sacrifice was even more rare. He had everything we all dream of having and, yet, he left it behind for a higher service. Not service for personal gain, fame or comfort, but service for a country that allows these privileges for all who are willing to work and dream of them. His beliefs were so strong that he could not, like the vast majority of Americans, consider service to his country someone else’s duty. He sacrificed all so other’s could live their dreams. His dream, if I may presume, was a safer America. A safer country for his family, his friends, and just we ordinary citizens.

So, on behalf of myself, my family, and my country I want to thank you for what you and your husband have given to this country. It was your love and strength that allowed your husband to become the hero that he is to all of us. You and your husband are forever my heroes. May God bless you and your family and comfort you in your pain and loss. Never doubt the worthiness of the cause in which your husband gave his life. Service to country - particularly, service that results in such sacrifice - is always noble and worthy of all of our admiration.

I will never forget your husband’s life and his service to our country. I will never forget to pray for you and your family. I will think of Pat Tillman whenever someone throws around the term "hero" cheaply and quickly in some everyday event. I now have a standard for my definition of a hero. It will not be easily or quickly matched in my lifetime. Of that, I am quite confidant.

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