TAMPA — Aaron Gonzales silently scribbled on note pad.
- Finding an appreciation for life
- Desire to start a new focus
- Something greater than herself
Those were lessons Marie Tillman learned after the death of her NFL player-turned-Army Ranger husband, Pat Tillman. Service to others makes life worthwhile, the widow told a crowd of student-veterans at the University of South Florida on Friday, even when it's not easy.
Gonzales understands that. Just three years ago, the 27-year-old history major was on his second combat mission in Iraq. He lost plenty of people he cared about, and he knows the agony of trying to move on from that.
Tillman described that feeling as "the world crumbling," but said, for her, it was followed by a realization that life is too short not to make something of it. Near the back row, Gonzales nodded.
Tillman's visit kicked off a weekend gathering at USF to celebrate students who have received scholarships from the Pat Tillman Foundation. USF is one of 12 Tillman partner universities in the country.
Pat Tillman left pro football to join the U.S. Army after Sept. 11, 2001. He saw it as an opportunity to make a difference, Marie Tillman said, and the military also seemed like an adventure.
"I kind of laugh when I look back on it," Tillman said. "Because we were so naive."
Reality hit quickly. All of a sudden, news stories from far-flung places were personal. Politics felt like a matter of life or death.
Then, her world crumbled. In 2004, Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in what was first called an enemy ambush.
As difficult as it was to come to terms with, Marie Tillman said, she emerged with a focus on making sure her husband's legacy lives on in a positive way.
"I needed to figure out a way to embrace all that's happened to me and do something good with it," Tillman said.
Gonzales jotted a note of that, too. He'll graduate next year.