Years Lived: November 6, 1976 – April 22, 2004 (27 years old)
Place Born: Fremont, CA
Family Origins: Irish
Occupation: NFL player, Arizona Cardinals and Specialist, 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, US Army
Pat Tillman qualifies as a great man in history because of his sacrifice to the US. He turned down a $3.6 million dollar contract with the NFL to serve in the US Army. He later paid the ultimate sacrifice and died on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Pat was the oldest of three boys and grew up in California. He did very well in high school football at Leland. Pat Jr. grew into an accomplished high school football player who could terrorize with his size, momentum and character. Unfortunately he was usually the same way off the field. “People in our town were basically afraid of my brother,” says Kevin. “He just has this tough-man mentality about him.” 1
Tillman went on to play linebacker for Arizona State University and was a part of their 1997 undefeated season. Pat also excelled in the classroom, earning numerous scholar awards. Upon college graduation, Tillman was drafted into the NFL in 1998, playing for the Arizona Cardinals. In 2000, Tillman even turned down a profitable contract with the St. Louis Rams and stayed faithful to his team.
After the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Pat decided to place his professional football career on hold and joined the US 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.”
After the 2001 NFL season was complete, Tillman enlisted in the Army along with his younger brother Kevin. Before beginning his military duty, Pat married his high school sweetheart Marie. Pat and Kevin tried out for the US Army Rangers and completed the 61 day intense combat leadership course. Ranger school has been called one of the toughest combat courses in the world 2. After graduation, the Tillman boys were assigned to the second battalion of 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington. Pat and Kevin’s regiment was deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as a tour in Afghanistan to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Pat Tillman was killed in action during a mission in a canyon in eastern Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Initial reports showed that he was shot during contact with insurgents during an ambush. Several unanswered questions existed following Tillman’s death. However, a week afterwards, General Stanley McChrystal authorized Tillman to earn the Silver Star nomination. On May 3, 2004, Pat Tillman was recognized in a nationally televised memorial service in which Senator John McCain presented the eulogy.
There were still many mysteries and contradictory stories that have been told by witnesses to Tillman’s death. Later, when other specifics came out, the Tillmans started asking pressing questions of the Army. At the end of May, it was concluded by several news networks that Pat Tillman was in fact killed as a result of fratricide or “friendly fire”.
In 2005, the military reopened the investigation on Tillman’s death. However, over 2,000 pages of first hand testimony disclosed even more controversies and inaccuracies. The general synopsis of everyone’s story was that Tillman’s platoon was divided in half because their vehicle became inoperable during a routine patrol outside a village in Afghanistan. After Tillman and the remainder of his platoon crested a hill, they were thought to be insurgents by the other half of his platoon. Tillman was shot three times in the head when he was shielding another younger soldier. During the gunfire, two other soldiers were wounded.
Pat Tillman didn’t only earn a Purple Heart and Silver Star as a result of his involvement in Afghanistan. His football numbers from the ASU Sun Devils and the Arizona Cardinals were resigned to honor him. The NFL and Pat Tillman Foundation joined together in 2010 to make the NFL-Tillman Scholarship to recognize people that “exemplify Pat Tillman’s enduring legacy of service.” The Tillman Story, a documentary film about Pat’s life, was released in August 2010 3.
Tillman’s legacy will forever reverberate in the hearts of those who were close to him or know of him. Even though his name will become a legend, his hard working character of sacrifice is mirrored by those motivated by his story.
1. Rickey, Carrie (September 3, 2010). Pat Tillman Documentary Follows Family’s Quest for Answers. Philadelphia Inquirer.
2. Krakauer, Jon (2009). Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday. p. 220. ISBN 0-385-52226-6.
3. Pat Tillman. (2012). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved 06:14, Dec 05, 2012, from http://www.biography.com/people/pat-tillman-197041.