I met my Pat Tillman Thursday.
On July 3rd of last week, my family and I were only about 20 yards from the back porch of Robert E. Lee’s when the sky opened. We were hit by an enormous downpour. Instead of walking in a suspended, painful peace through Arlington National Cemetery, my daughters, wife and I stared only at our water-logged shoes in a slow gallop to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Knowing her place, Mother Nature softened the rain to show respect as we witnessed American perfection during the changing of the guard at the Tomb. We left the scene in silence, too drenched to appreciate the pounding torrent had become drizzle. After reaching a respectful distance, I apologized to my family since I was the vacation organizer. I felt obligated to explain the powerful affect of Arlington in the sunlight versus our experience. My nine-year-old saw things differently.
“It’s better this way, Daddy. I imagined this is what the soldiers went through. Death is gloomy.”
As I left work Thursday, I was greeted by one of the warmest men on Earth. Jim is the golf-cart security guard at our building. I’ve always appreciated the way he’s so committed to his job. He greets everyone, knows almost everyone and makes you feel great on your way into work.
He asked me if I went back to Ohio for my vacation. I told him it was Washington this year and shared some pieces of my vacation. He let me know where his Marine barracks were located in relationship to downtown.
I’ve talked to Jim for years and never knew. Now knowing, I told him the story of my daughter’s comments while walking through the storm at Arlington. A soft smile of approval came across his face. With love and pain he asked, “Did you take them to the wall?”
I’ve heard the phrase, “Vietnam War Memorial” so many times. Obviously, I haven’t spent enough time with Vietnam Veterans because “the wall” rolled off his tongue with such familiarity, hinting of a formal relationship with pain, death and respect.
“Absolutely, I did. We walked slowly and, although I have no family members on the wall, Jennifer’s father fought in Vietnam. I told the girls that ‘Papa has friends who died for their country on that wall.'”
A look I had never seen in any human came across Jim’s face: remorseful pride.
“I have 16 on that wall.”
Two years ago, Jake Plummer was on “Doug & Wolf.” Wolf asked him about Pat Tillman. Plummer has a way of talking about Pat with pent-up passion it makes you think he’s never talked about him before while you know he talks about him every time he gets a chance. When he was done sharing, I said I was jealous since I never got to meet Pat. I’ve never forgotten Jake’s response.
“You know, I’m going to go Pat on you. Pat would tell you, ‘Don’t be jealous you haven’t met me, go meet your Pat.’ Pat would talk to everyone. He made everyone feel the team needed them. I don’t mean just his teammates. Everyone he talked to. Go talk to a meter maid. Talk to the checkout person at the grocery. Find out about other people. That’s what Pat did. Go find your Pat.”
I re-met Jim Thursday, a man I thought I knew. I met my Pat.