EDITOR’S NOTE: Senator John McCain delivered this eulogy at the public memorial service in memorial service held in San Jose, California for Pat Tillman. Tillman gave up an NFL career to serve as an Army Ranger. He was killed in action on April 22 in Afghanistan.
I never had the honor of meeting Pat Tillman, and I’m the poorer for it. By all accounts, he was quite a man, and it would have been a great privilege to have called him a friend. He is remembered as a good son, brother, and husband, a loyal friend, an excellent student, an overachieving athlete, a decent, considerate person, a solid citizen in every respect. It is obvious to everyone that Pat was raised in a good and loving family to be an honorable man, and to have the courage to possess the virtues that make an honorable life.
Many American families have suffered the same terrible sacrifice that the Tillman family now suffers. The courage and patriotism their loved ones exemplified is as fine and compelling as Pat’s, and their loss should grieve us just as much. Were he here, I think Pat would insist we cherish their memory and feel their loss no less than his. But it was his uncommon choice of duty to his country over the profession he loved and the riches and other comforts of celebrity, and his humility that make Pat Tillman’s life such a welcome lesson in the true meaning of courage and honor.
In our blessed and mostly peaceful society we’re not as familiar with courage as we once were. We ascribe the virtue to all manner of endeavors that only really require skill, fortitude and a little daring, the qualities Pat Tillman showed on the football field. Pat’s best service to his country was to remind us all what courage really looks like, and that the purpose of all good courage is love.
He loved his country, and the values that make us exceptional among nations, and good. And he worried after the terrible blow we were struck on September 11th, 2001, that he had “never done a damn thing” to serve her. Love and honor oblige us. We are obliged to value our blessings, and to pay our debts to those who sacrificed to secure them for us. They are blood debts we owe to the policemen and firemen who raced into the burning towers that others fled; to the men and women who left for dangerous, distant lands to take the war to our enemies and away from us, and to those who fought in all the wars of our history.
Pat Tillman understood his obligations, no better than his comrades in arms, perhaps, but better than many of his contemporaries. He must have known that such debts are not a burden, but that their recompense earns us our happiness. So he volunteered to take his place in the ranks, and defend his country in a time of peril.
Our country’s security doesn’t depend on the heroism of every citizen. Nor does our individual happiness depend upon proving ourselves heroic. But we have to be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to love our freedom, not just for the ease or material benefits it provides, not just for the autonomy it guarantees us, but for the goodness it makes possible. We have to love it so much we won’t let it be constrained by fear or selfishness. We have to love it as much, even if not as heroically, as Pat Tillman loved it.
It would be false to pretend that Pat’s death hasn’t hurt us. The loss of every fallen soldier should hurt us lest we ever forget the terrible costs of war, and the sublime love of those who sacrifice everything on our behalf. I respect and mourn his death. But I will not dwell on the grief it occasioned when in better days I remember what he did for us. I will remember that Pat Tillman was an Army Ranger. He served one combat tour in Iraq and had begun another in Afghanistan where he was killed. I will remember that his family and his country lost a good man. But I will also remember that while many of us may be blessed to live a longer life than he did, few of us will ever live a better one. And I will celebrate and encourage my children to celebrate the brief, brave and happy life of Pat Tillman, a most honorable man.
To Marie, Pat and Danny, to Kevin and Rich, to Alex and all Pat’s friends, I can only offer you the assurance that my faith promises me is true. To all of you who loved Pat, and were loved by him, he will never be so far from you that you cannot feel his love. And you will see him again, when a loving God reunites us all with the loved ones who preceded us in death. Take care of each other until then, as Pat would want you to. May God bless him. And may God bless us all.