A Memorial Day story on the local news station channel 14 caught my eye. Pat Tillman’s name was prominently featured on a cross on church grounds.
*Please don’t call the phone number – it’s handled.*
I called the news station, and I called the church – no response. So I grabbed the megaphone. Thank you to all who helped to rapidly fix the situation. Within an hour of my post, the news station edited it out of the story, and the reported called me and apologized. The church also promised to take down the cross.
The next day, I spoke to Barbara, who created the memorial. The conversation went extremely well. I could hear in her voice a recurring “What have I done?… What would Pat’s mother say if she saw this!?” She was genuinely apologetic and even receptive to hearing my concerns about the rest of the displays. I asked some tough questions (in very polite and civil tone).
How many other non-Christians are being dishonored by your memorial?
At first she said “I don’t know how to find this out, do you know?” I told her that statistically, roughly 20% identify as specifically non-Christian according to ADHOC query data that a chaplain provided me. I recommended she ask Fort Bragg’s Garrison Chaplain, CH (Colonel) Hillis.
I drove home the point that 20% of her crosses were ‘just like Pat Tillman’. One out of five. Then I suggested a secular alternate design, saying that it would be much easier than the research necessary for accuracy and more universal. She promised to have it fixed next year.
Would you consider changing your display to a universally acceptable symbol? (perhaps bags of sand with a candle, or US flags, or dogtag-boot-combo?)Yes, but she seemed to want to treat this as ‘plan B’.
Would you make a SGT Justin Griffith Cross if I was killed in action?
No, because now she is aware of the problem. She thanked me for serving – and it was clearly not lip service. Although, if we hadn’t have had this conversation, my name likely would have been co-opted too.
Why did you make a cross for Pat Tillman even though he wasn’t stationed at Fort Bragg?
This was really important to me. The news story said that she was honoring troops stationed at Fort Bragg – and she confirmed this to me as well. I thought that she had purposely co-opted a ‘famous dead guy’ – this conclusion seemed inescapable.
I’m so glad I asked her this because the explanation is understandable. She had gotten his name off of a Special Forces unit’s memorial. To an outsider, this seems like a memorial with names of people stationed at Fort Bragg, who worked in the buildings nearby. However, these big displays are usually at a ‘headquarters unit’ which may have dozens of ‘downtrace units’ that the top unit controls.
Depending on the unit, perhaps most of the names would indeed be ‘local’. I’d imagine 82nd memorials would have a high ratio of local names. On the contrary, I’d imagine the USASOC (a Special Forces ‘headquarters unit’) memorial would likely have more names from downtrace units. The unit I’m in has a memorial featuring names that nearly all were not stationed at Fort Bragg.
“Tell Pat’s mom that I am very sorry.”
Now at this point I thanked her very much and told her that the atheist community really appreciates her swift action. She thanked me for bringing it to her attention and reiterated her apology. Then we thanked each other back and forth and shared the sentiment that we would be fast friends in any other context.
She was so sweet that she even asked me to tell Pat’s mom that she was very sorry. She was emphatic about this, it clearly tore her up inside. I’ll try to pass this on, but I’m not currently in contact with the Tillman family (I assumed he wouldn’t want to be co-opted by our movement either.)