“He was our daddy before all of that,” she said with reminiscing smile. “He was 10-feet tall and bulletproof.”
Her voice echoes from the kitchen throughout the rest of the living room, which is directly attached to it. An obvious patriotic color scheme, complimented by other red, white, blue home décor, covers the entire living and dining area — the Stars and Stripes neatly folded in a triangular fashion is present, as it always had been, near the fireplace. It’s in perfect position to be viewed from anywhere within the living area, especially from the dining table, where Tina Pittman-Carr sat.
Her father, Richard Pittman, a Vietnam veteran died at 71, on Oct. 13th in Stockton. A Stockton Unified School District elementary school is named after him.
His family is mourning the loss of a larger-than-life character.
Tina, remembers the salutes her father, a Master Gunnery Sergeant, would get upon entering any base, and how she assumed it was a common practice for guards to salute everyone.
Then she noticed other Marines weren’t being saluted.
“I tried to tell my mama on the guards because I thought they weren’t doing their jobs right,” she said. Her father found out about her catching on, and instructed the guard to salute everyone who accompanied Tina simply so she wouldn’t assume her daddy was different.
The veteran seemed to have that kind of power most places he went.
“We still knew he was the biggest, baddest Marine of them all, but we thought he was normal,” she said.
Rick was an influential person, not only on base but with whoever he was with. He grew up in a poor family in Stockton, and graduated from Franklin High School. He wanted a better life for his children.
One of the many jobs Rick had was military police and he liked working first watch, which is from midnight to 6 a.m. It’s not the most convenient time to work on a daily basis, but one of the reasons he liked doing it was because it allowed him to make a breakfast every morning for his girls.
“I don’t ever remember not having a warm breakfast when dad was there,” Tina said. That’s one of the many memories Tina has of her father growing up.
There are only so many things Rick doesn’t like in this world, one of them being his daughters crying and another being the dark.
Tina never remembered waking up to darkness — there were always nightlights lining the walls. “He called them his ‘aiming lights,’” she said. “He always made us feel safe, he was always on watch. He usually never slept for more than an hour at a time, the rest of the time he spent in bed he wasn’t getting much sleep.”
Considering what Rick has experienced, no one can blame him for not liking the dark.
He served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and fought in countless fire-fights — so many in fact that the lines dividing them were blurry. He earned the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military honor, for his bravery overseas.
But that’s not why his girls call him 10-feet tall and bulletproof.
“Of course he was a big, bad Marine and cop,” Tina said. “But we adored him.”
As decorated as he was, Rick never expected a superstar from his girls, and Tina said she never felt like he wasn’t proud of them. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have expectations. “One time in high school my mom made me call him and tell him that I failed one of my classes, and the first thing he said to me was ‘a rock could sit in the class and get a D,’” she said.
The love for his daughters was the same as his love for his grandchildren.
“He was there every step of the way,” Tina said with a smile. “He bought everything in the catalog in the exact pattern I wanted, he picked the kids up from school, he’d take them for ice cream, everything.” She said the reason he was so involved was because he believed grandkids are ‘do-overs,’ and he wanted to give them everything he couldn’t give to his children.
One-word Rick wouldn’t discuss with his daughters was the one they’re grappling with right now.
“We lived as if he was never going to die,” said Tina. In his 60s, Rick began experiencing health problems. His chest cavity filled with fluid a few months after his open-heart surgery, which eventually led to a medically-induced coma. His daughters, knowing he would rather not be in the hospital, took turns staying with him. He was only without family for one night.
That one night, after Tina left, doctor’s immediately called her back.
“All they said was that his heartbeat jumped over 100-beats per minute and they wanted me to come to see if he could be calmed down,” Tina said. “So I go there and just talk to him because I know he’s listening.” The doctors assigned to Rick told Tina his pulse must be near 80 bpm — and that’s exactly what she talked her father down to.
Tina’s response to the baffled doctors? “All he needs to know is that someone has his six.”
Rick continued spending time with family after he left the hospital, until he passed away last month in Stockton. Once that happened, his name received national attention again. Facebook videos began popping up, with some of them reaching several million views.
“It’s surreal to see those videos and pictures all over the internet. But again it didn’t change how we felt about him. The pictures, the videos, his things, they’re all just stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I respect that he’s a national hero, but he was our dad before anything else. Everything we are, everything he gave to us, is in here,” Tina said, pointing to her heart. “He was 10-feet tall and bulletproof before we even knew he had the medal.”