Life and Death
The facts of Pat Tillman’s life are pretty well known. After a stellar football career at Arizona State University, the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in 1998. During the 2000-01 season he broke the team’s record for tackles and played through the 2001-02 season. In May, 2002, however, Tillman shocked the football world and, along with his brother, joined the U.S. Army. Both Pat and Kevin Tillman were inspired to enlist because of the events of 9/11/01. They became Rangers and completed tours in Iraq in 2003, followed by a deployment to Afghanistan the next year. Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire while on patrol April 22, 2004. He was 27.
Heroism of Two Men
Kevin was trying to make it in Major League Baseball–he was a minor leaguer. Pat was a bonified star in the NFL on the verge of signing a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. While so many of us floundered around wondering what we could do after the attacks, the Tillman brothers left everything to become privates–privates–in the Army. That spells hero to me.
Once in the Army, the soldier pretty much follows orders unless, of course, he volunteers for something. The Tillmans volunteered to become Rangers, a course of action they knew would take them to the battlefield. They left the bright civilian lights of professional sports and put on the “uniform” fatigues of their fellow soldiers. There is an often miserable to hear adage that “rank has its privilege.” I can tell you, private is as low as one can go. No rank, no privilege. They may have started out as the lowest of the low, but they had joined the largest, most loyal team in the country. That took courage.
Mistakes Were Made
Early reports of Pat Tillman’s death indicated that he was killed by enemy ambush while on patrol. The truth is that he was killed by an errant Ranger bullet. The “rank and privileged” boys call that fratricide. They panicked. Even though Tillman was a soldier like any other, he was not a soldier like any other. He became a hero the day he left superstardom behind, stepped forward, and averred that he would uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The biggest mistake the mucky-mucks made was to even think that they had to create a battlefield narrative for Tillman’s death. Pat and Kevin Tillman had proved their mettle two years before.
God bless Americans like Kevin and Pat Tillman.