Today, November 6, Pat Tillman would have turned 37-years-old. Instead, his family and friends are remembering the man who became an unlikely hero in the mountains of Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.
Patrick Daniel Tillman was like many other young men, following his dream of becoming a major football star, when terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
Tillman was selected by the Arizona Cardinals during the 1998 NFL draft and eventually earned his spot as a starter. He broke the record for number of tackles in 2000.
Known as a fiercely loyal man, Pat Tillman turned down a very lucrative contract with the St. Louis Rams to stay with the Cardinals in 2001.
After 9/11 and following the US invasion of Afghanistan, Tillman put his promising career on hold and together with his brother, Kevin, enlisted in the Army.
“Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful,” he said in 2002. “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.”
Pat Tillman’s decision to enlist in the military in lieu of pursuing a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals got a lot of media attention.
People could not believe he would actually give up millions to serve the country and possibly be sent to the front lines.
Before enlisting, Pat Tillman married his High School sweetheart, Marie.
Pat Tillman and his brother went through training and became Army Rangers. They were assigned to the second battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington.
Tillman served in several tours of duty, including time in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as a stay in Afghanistan to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom.
The former NFL player was deployed to Afghanistan, and on April 22, 2004, was killed in what the Army categorized as enemy fire after his unit was ambushed in Sperah.
Almost immediately afterwards, speculation began about the true nature of the actions that resulted in his death.
Many unanswered questions and conflicting accounts of the actions involving Tillman’s death led his family to demand an explanation from the military.
By the end of May, media reports revealed that Pat Tillman was actually killed by “friendly fire.”
Official documents later revealed that the Army knew he had been killed by American fire within the first 24 hours after his death, and withheld the information from his family and the public.
According to a Pentagon investigation in 2005, Pat Tillman’s platoon became separated when one of their vehicles broke down. Half of the men were forced to tow the truck, but were attacked by insurgents.
Tillman’s group came back to help those under fire and that is when he was mistaken as the enemy and killed.
Pat Tillman was shot three times while protecting a young soldier, Two other unit members were also injured in the exchange.
Scandal ensued when it was revealed that General Stan McCrystal knew about the friendly fire almost immediately.
In the years that followed the initial investigation into Pat Tillman’s death, accusations surfaced that there were other reasons to cover up the tragic incident.
MSNBC Chris Matthews suggested in 2007 that Tillman’s death might have been a deliberate murder by fellow soldiers, but when officers and soldiers were questioned, they said Tillman was very popular among his peers.
According to Biography, Pat Tillman’s legacy lives on:
“In addition to his Purple Heart and Silver Star medals from the military, Tillman’s numbers for the ASU Sun Devils and the Arizona Cardinals were retired in his honor. In May 2010, he was chosen to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. During June of the same year, the NFL and the Pat Tillman Foundation joined forces to create the NFL-Tillman Scholarship to honor an individual who “exemplifies Pat Tillman’s enduring legacy of service.”
Pat Tillman was only 27-years-old when he died, but he has inspired thousands because of his selfless, heroic nature. He chose to serve his country instead of embracing the fame and glory an NFL career would have brought to him. Pat Tillman represented everything that makes America the exceptional nation that we love and cherish.