Bill Bennett’s American Patriots Almanac: Football season is a good time to remember Pat Tillman. As an Arizona State University linebacker he weighed barely 200 pounds, but he gained a reputation for bone-rattling hits and helped lead his team to the Rose Bowl in 1997. His teammates nicknamed him Braveheart. After college he turned pro, even though critics said he was too small and slow for the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals took him as their next-to-last draft pick. In 2000 he set a team record with 224 tackles in a single season.
Then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,
and Tillman started thinking about things larger than football. He spoke of family members whohad fought for their country, such as his great-grandfather at Pearl Harbor. “I haven’t done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that,” he said. Eight months later, Tillman shocked the sports world by turning down a $3.6 million football contract and joining the Army with his brother.
He enlisted without fanfare, refusing to talk to the press about his decision. “He truly felt committed and felt a sense of honor and duty,” his Cardinals coach said. He joined the Army Rangers, an elite outfit that routinely goes in harm’s way. On April 22, 2004, he was on patrol near an isolated mud-brick village in southeast Afghanistan, a region rife with terrorist operatives, when gunfire erupted. Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire. He was twenty-seven.
Controversy later erupted with revelations that Army officers initially hid the fact that U.S. troops accidentally shot Tillman. That does not diminish his own sacrifice.
Very few walk away from riches and fame to serve as Tillman did. But there are many who quietly and humbly protect American ideals with everything they have to offer—including their lives. As one of his coaches said, “The spirit of Pat Tillman is the heart of this country.”
Here are a few photos of another American who has risen to high place. He did it the easy way, no sacrifice, no achievement, no hard work, no experience, no setbacks, no brilliance, not even much thought, no insight, no love of country, not even much respect for country, no heros except Reverend Jeremiah “goddamn America” Wright and Frank Marshall Davis.