Pat Tillman

On this date in 1976, Pat Tillman, millionaire NFL Arizona Cardinals player, was born to Mary and Patrick Tillman in San Jose, Calif., the first of three sons. Pat began walking by eight and a half months. He grew up in a household without a television, where he and his brother largely read or played outdoors. In his senior year in high school, he led his team to the Central Coast Section Division I Football Championship and earned co-Player of the Year honors for the Central Coast Section. He helped lead the Sun Devils at Arizona State University to the 1997 Rose Bowl after an undefeated regular season. He graduated summa cum laude from ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business in three and a half years, with numerous athletic honors. He soon became the Arizona Cardinal's starting safety and broke the franchise record for tackles in 2000 with 224. He also competed in marathons and the Ironman triathlon, and volunteered in youth groups and schools, while pursuing a master's degree in history. Pat married his high school sweetheart, Marie, in the spring of 2002. He soon made his stunning announcement that he was placing his NFL career on hold to become a U.S. Army Ranger with his brother, Kevin. They served tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. They were recipients of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 11th Annual ESPY Awards in 2003. Pat died from "friendly fire," as he tried to provide cover for fellow soldiers escaping from an ambush in a canyon in Afghanistan. It took the military five weeks to disclose the truth to his family: that Pat died from fratricide. When his antiwar views—he soon considered the war "illegal"—were documented by his family, they were attacked by right-wingers.

The May 3 memorial program featured a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which had been found underlined in Tillman's belongings: "But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." In an article in October 2006 appearing in Truthdig, Richard Tillman wrote that the best way to honor his brother's birthday was by choices made on "the day After Pat's Birthday" (Nov. 7, 2006, Election Day). Tillman wrote: "Somehow suspension of habeas corpus is supposed to keep this country safe. Somehow torture is tolerated. Somehow lying is tolerated. Somehow reason is being discard for faith, dogma, and nonsense." D. 2004.

“Hold your spiritual bromides . . . Pat isn't with God. He's f-ing dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's f-ing dead.”

—Brother Richard Tillman at his brother's memorial service, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2004

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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