Pat Tillman

On this date in 1976, NFL player Patrick Daniel Tillman was born to Mary (Spalding) and Patrick Tillman in San Jose, Calif., the first of their three sons. He grew up in a household without a television where he and his brother largely read or played outdoors. As a teen he wrote in his journal that he considered himself an atheist. As a high school senior he led his team to the Central Coast Section Division I Football Championship. He helped lead the Sun Devils at Arizona State University to the 1997 Rose Bowl after an undefeated regular season and graduated summa cum laude from ASU’s School of Business.

He signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 1998, played defensive 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. He married his high school sweetheart, Marie Ugenti, in 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. Tillman died from what was officially termed as “friendly fire” as he tried to provide cover for fellow Rangers escaping an ambush in a canyon in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. It took the Army five weeks to disclose what it said was the truth to his family — that he was a victim of fratricide. When his anti-war views — he had grown to see the war as illegal — were documented by his family, they were attacked by right-wingers. Several investigations, including congressional probes, ensued that revealed suspicion that Tillman was actually murdered and that friendly-fire evidence was contrived.

The program for his memorial service 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, Kevin Tillman wrote that the best way to honor his brother was by choices made on “the day after Pat’s birthday” (Nov. 7, Election Day). Kevin 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 discarded for faith, dogma and nonsense.” D. 2004.

Freedom From Religion Foundation