April 22, 2004: We Remember Pat Tillman
President Ronald Reagan once said, “Those who say that were in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.” Today, most Americans know where to find the heroes of our world, but for those who need a reminder, look no further than the legacy of Patrick Daniel Tillman. On this day 13 years ago, Pat Tillman was killed in a controversial friendly fire incident in the Mountains of Afghanistan during the Global War on Terrorism. His tragic death continues to haunt many to this day, but rather than focusing on the end of his story, it is important that we remember his life and everything that he stood for.
There are many ways to remember Pat Tillman. He was a son to Patrick and Mary Tillman, a brother to Kevin and Richard Tillman, and a husband to Marie Ugenti Tillman. He excelled as a student and as an athlete at Arizona State, he played professional football for the Arizona Cardinals, and above all, he was a United States Army Ranger.
Like so many of his countrymen, Tillman answered the call of duty after the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001. After finishing out the 2001 NFL season with the Cardinals, Tillman and his younger brother Kevin enlisted in the U.S. Army. At the time, Pat had turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with Arizona to enlist. His brother Kevin followed suit, leaving the Cleveland Indians farm system in order to enlist. Together they completed the intense training required to become Army Rangers. They were assigned to the second battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Pat served in several tours of duty, including Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals.
On September 12, 2001, Tillman was interviewed. He talked about how his grandfather was at Pearl Harbor and how he admired that many in his family had given their service in times of war. He proclaimed, “I really haven’t done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that, and so, I have a great deal of respect for those that have and what the flag stands for.” The year after that interview, Tillman followed in the footsteps of those he expressed so much respect for. In response to his decision to leave the NFL during the prime of his career, Tillman said, “Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful.” He continued, “However, these last few years, and especially after recent events, I’ve come to appreciate just how shallow and insignificant my role is. . . It’s no longer important.”
Not many are willing to trade a paycheck for their patriotism, but Pat Tillman was not like most people. He lived a life of courage and conviction, and as the great George S. Patton would say, “We should thank God that such men lived.” Pat Tillman is another shining example of the unwavering American spirit. May we never forget his memory. Heroes make history.