On April 22, 2004, pro football player Pat Tillman, who gave up his NFL career to enlist in the U.S. Army after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, was killed by friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan. Here are five things to remember about American Hero Pat Tillman.
He Played Football Despite His Small Stature After leading his high school in San Jose, California to a championship, Pat Tillman received a scholarship to Arizona State University. At 5-foot-11, he was considered too small to play linebacker at a Division I school, but he proved his critics wrong. He played four seasons, helping lead his undefeated Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl during his junior year. After his senior season in 1997, he was named the Pac-10 Conference defensive player of the year, an award that now bears his name. An Academic All-American, Tillman graduated Summa Cum Laude, with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
The Arizona Cardinals Drafted Him As The 226th Pick The seventh round of the draft is not usually where teams find premier talent, but Pat Tillman moved to the safety position and defied expectations once again, playing in all 48 games for the Cardinals during his first three seasons. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 Tillman enlisted in the U.S. Army. Tillman turned down an offer from the Cardinals that would’ve paid him about $1.2 million year. He opted instead to enlist in the U.S Army for about $1,000 a month.
He And His Brother Became Army Rangers Pat Tillman wasn’t the only family member to forgo a career in pro sports to serve his country. His brother Kevin gave up the prospect of a career with the Cleveland Indians, where he played second base in the team’s minor league system. The two brothers enlisted in the Army together on May 31, 2002. They both became members of the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment and took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Pat was killed in Afghanistan, Kevin Tillman accompanied his body back to the United States.
The Army Initially Covered Up The Cause of Tillman’s Death The initial claim was that Tillman died in an ambush near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. He received a Silver Star and Purple Heart, and was posthumously promoted. Twenty-six days after his memorial service, the Army publicly acknowledged that Tillman had died from friendly fire while returning to support members of his platoon from whom he and other Rangers had been separated. He died on April 22, 2004, after being shot in the head three times by US soldiers who had mistaken him for the enemy. Congressional inquiries and investigations into the incident later showed that several soldiers knew about the circumstances of Tillman’s death and attempted to hide it.
Tillman Left A Letter For His Wife Tillman and his wife, Marie, were high school sweethearts and were married for two years when he died. When Tillman went overseas, he left Marie a letter to open "just in case" he was killed. Marie opened the letter the night of his death which read: “Through the years, I’ve asked a great deal of you. Therefore, it should surprise you little that I have another favor to ask. I ask that you live.” Marie Tillman would go on to chronicle her life with and after Tillman. She called her book, “The Letter.”