SAN JOSE -The mournful sound of the bagpipes faded into the late afternoon, and a gentle breeze stood the 18 American flags at attention.
Pat Tillman's family slowly walked out of the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. His wife, Marie, and father, Pat Sr., carried flags presented to them at the end of Tillman's memorial service.
The 3,000 spectators who came to pay their respects to Tillman stood and watched, silent and respectful. Many of them clutched a tiny American flag in one hand and a memorial card of Tillman in the other.
On one side of the card was a picture of Tillman from his wedding day, his eyes narrow and playful, his smile wide.
Underneath the picture, his name was printed in green blocky letters. Then, smaller still, the day he was born and the day he died.
November 6, 1976 April 22, 2004
Finally, at the bottom of the card, two sentences.
Every man dies. Not every man really lives.
Tillman lived. His life shouted from the rooftops, and on a hot Monday afternoon, amid a backdrop of roses, that life was celebrated with laughter, profanity and a toast of Guinness beer. And his death was grieved by tears.
“I miss my son,” said Pat Tillman Sr. “It's only been a week and it ain't getting any better.”
Tillman's service brought together people from every intersection of his life. Childhood friends. Teammates and coaches from high school, Arizona State University and the Arizona Cardinals. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. U.S. military personnel.
There was also Earl Edwards, sitting in a chair three hours before the service began, a cane leaning against his left leg. Edwards, a Vietnam War veteran, never knew Tillman. But he knew what he stood for.
“He wanted to serve his country,” Edwards said. “I want to honor a fallen comrade.”
The stage at the Rose Garden was dominated by eight-poster sized pictures of Tillman. In one picture, Tillman and his brother, Kevin, are standing in front of an Army helicopter. In another, Tillman's head is resting in the lap of Marie on their wedding day.
Their two-year wedding anniversary would have been today.
Those who eulogized Tillman — the 18 speakers included U.S. Senator John McCain and Maria Shriver, wife of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — invoked strong, single words to praise a man whose death came too soon.
Disciplined. Loyal. Courageous. Decent. Loving.
“Those weren't adjectives in Pat Tillman's life. They were his life,” said former Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis.
They spoke of a man whose appearance and casual speech belied his intellect and curiosity. Tillman wore long hair and flip-flops and called everybody “dude,” yet read everything from the Bible to “Mein Kampf” and loved engaging in passionate philosophical debates.
“He'd come to my office at 10 or 11 p.m. every night,” said former ASU linebackers coach Lyle Setencich. “We'd sit down and talk about God or Kosovo or poor people in this country. He wanted me to read the Book of Mormon. So we did.”
Mostly, they remembered a devoted husband. A good friend who once asked a bar owner in Ireland to open up early so his buddy, who was still sleeping, could wake up to a Guinness on his birthday.
A man who inspired others by his words and actions.
Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen said his son turned down college football scholarships in order to go to West Point and “honor Pat.”
Chief petty officer Stephen White, who served with Tillman in Iraq, recounted the harrowing details of Tillman's final heroic act, attempting to rescue his comrades trapped in an ambush.
“Pat sacrificed himself so his brothers could live,” White said. “He was absolutely one of the more remarkable men I’ve ever met.”
He was also silly and profane, and the memorial celebrated that life, as well.
Friends told stories of how Tillman bragged about his unibrow, wore a kimono and pink slippers and went to his godson's baptism dressed as a woman because the boy had two godfathers and no godmother.
“The single best thing about Pat was that he made you feel alive,” said Tillman's brother-in-law, Alex Garwood, who poured a Guinness in Tillman's honor, took a drink and set it down in front of the podium.
‘‘While many of us will be blessed to live a longer life, few of us will ever live a better one,’’ said McCain, who spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Tillman's youngest brother, Richard, dressed in a white T-shirt and black jeans, shouted several obscenities in his short eulogy and told a stunned crowd that Tillman “didn't believe in God. He's just dead.”
The remarks were unconventional — but then, so was Tillman. “He was fiercely unique,” said former ASU and Cardinals coach Larry Marmie.
After the service ended, people stopped to write their tributes on a large roll of white butcher paper.
Pat & family — Our hearts grieve for you. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for our freedom. God bless, Kathy & Alex Michael.
Soon, the Rose Garden was empty. Only memories remained — and a quote on the other side of the memorial card from one of Tillman's favorite poets, Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think . . . you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in the solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
“I never thought,” Marmie said, “his story would end like this.”