ST. PETERSBURG — King George Pittman loved the military.
He joined the Army when he was young. He told stories and wore his dress uniform until he was old.
He served in the Vietnam and Korean wars, lost his big toes to frostbite. He earned a Purple Heart for bravery.
"When you're in the Army, you have to be able to make split decisions that can save 25 to 30 people," he told the Times in 1989.
Miles and years from the battlefield, he found, the rule still applied.
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Mr. Pittman was born in Tallahassee in a family of 12 children. The youngest was a sister, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek. Mr. Pittman was baby nine.
His sister eventually relocated to Miami, but Mr. Pittman made St. Petersburg home after his tours of duty. For 25 years, he ran Appliance TV Store on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Friends on the block called him "Sarge."
He was outspoken and loved to have fun. He bought and sold cars for a hobby. He studied newspapers to debate current events with friends and neighbors. He read history books.
"He was extremely proud of two things — the military, and his blackness," said Carrie Meek. "He was very proud of the fact that he knew all of the history of black America."
He wasn't one to mess with.
"He was very spunky and could be very combative," his sister said.
In 1989, a robber slammed Mr. Pittman on the head with a beer bottle and forced his way into the appliance store. Mr. Pittman offered to give the robber $20, but instead pulled out a gun and shot the man in the leg.
"I gave him some money that he couldn't spend," Mr. Pittman told a reporter. "I gave him some Smith & Wesson."
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He saved his own life that night, and lived almost 20 more years. He battled bladder cancer toward the end and died Tuesday at 87.
His family will bury him at Arlington National Cemetery. He spent his last years visiting other war memorials and monuments. Being laid to rest in one would make him happy, they said.
He found vicarious patriotism through his sister, who was elected to the House in 1979.
"He was very, very proud of me," she said. "He kept pictures of me everywhere. He bragged about me."
And when she retired in 2003, Mr. Pittman got another thrill: His beloved nephew, Kendrick Meek, took her place.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or