When former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman died as a result of friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004, Marie Tillman was left with a great deal of grief, unanswered questions that went on far too long, and the need to build a legacy. Seven years later, the widow of the man who turned away from a lucrative NFL future to serve his country after the September 11 attacks is focusing on the legacy part of the equation.
On Veteran's Day, Mrs. Tillman (who has since remarried but has kept the Tillman name) will be doing community service in New York with one of the many veterans assisted by the Pat Tillman Foundation.
"I don't think I could have done this seven years ago," she told Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News on Thursday. "But I'm happy that I was able to come to this place where I am now."
In the wake of Tillman's death and the cover-up regarding the circumstances of that tragedy, the Tillman family have sought to help others who have found their way back from war and are looking to improve their lives. In recent years, Marie Tillman has turned the focus of the foundation from community projects at Arizona State University (Tillman's alma mater) to more of a focus on helping veterans pursue their educational goals.
"What sparked it," she told Purdy, "was that we became aware of so many soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and how they were facing not just the difficult challenges of transitioning back to a different type of life, but also had a desire to do something for their community now that they were back in civilian life.
"The reality is, the G.I. Bill doesn't cover everything," she said. "When someone is going back to school and has a family, it's different from being 18 years old right out of high school. In some cases, our support provides day care or other sorts of needed assistance for spouses. It supplements the G.I. Bill."
To date, the Pat Tillman Foundation has awarded Tillman Military Scholarships to 171 veterans, and those awards have totaled over $2.2 million. Vets from 22 states have attended 59 different academic institutions, according to Purdy's article. If you would like to learn more, you may do so by going to the foundation's website at pattillmanfoundation.org.
"I am very proud of Pat's service," Marie Tillman said. "It's been amazing for me to see the impact he's had on peoples' lives. It's surprised me and humbled me."