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Perspectives May 6, 2004

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Tillman gives American heroism a face

“What other person do you know who would give up a life in the NFL to defend what he believes in and risk his own life. That is a humble guy.” – David Barnet, former teammate of Pat Tillman with the Arizona Cardinals. I felt guilty on April 23. I also felt saddened and angered.

Ironically, it was a Friday, which to me is usually a good thing, and it was my mother’s birthday, also, a good thing (especially because I had not forgotten to get her a card).

But that day was dif-ferent. That Friday, April 23, was the day I found out Pat Tillman died serving our country fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan.

Tillman was only 27 years old.

Tillman, if you haven’t heard, was a former NFL overachiever with the Arizona Cardinals who decided to put his football career on hold because he felt it was his duty to serve his country following the tragedies in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Penn. on Sept. 11.

Tillman, and his brother Kevin, who incidentally was a member of the Cleveland Indians organization and played for the Akron Aeros, both joined the Army in 2002 with every intention of becoming members of the elite Army Rangers, and did so.

Tillman turned down $3.6 million a year in the NFL and left his wife of less than a year to serve his country.

It was an absolutely legitimate move on both the Tillmans part to join the Army. It was not a celebrity-made publicity stunt to generate good PR. This was the real deal. Both Tillmans never granted one interview after enlisting, and more importantly, went out of their way to ensure that they received no special treatment from the Army just because they happened to be stellar athletes. The Tillmans were no different than anyone else; they just wanted to be soldiers.

And they were.

After serving a tour in Iraq, the brothers, who were in the same 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger regiment, returned home for a short leave before heading to Afghanistan, where on April 22, Pat Tillman was killed in a firefight with enemy combatants.

“Pat represents all that is good with this country, our society and ultimately the human condition in general,” said Bob Ferguson, who was the Cardinals general manger when Arizona drafted Tillman out of Arizona State. “In today’s world of instant gratification and selfishness, here is a man that was defined by words like loyalty, honor, passion, courage, strength, and nobility. He is a modern-day hero.”

My sympathy goes out to the Tillman family, of course, but my feelings following the news about Tillman’s death were not just because I was a football fan and could place a face to a name that was killed, but because I knew the Tillman story, and what kind of man he was.

And I realized that it took the death of somebody famous for me to grasp the terrible situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places, and what kind of people every single soldier serving our country, and who has served our country, really are.

The NFL fraternity, football fans, the Army and the country lost a true hero on Thursday, April 22, and it really opened my eyes to the thousands of men and women that serve our country each and everyday in all different parts of the globe.

I realized that the afore-mentioned words spoken by Tillman’s peers don’t just apply to Tillman, though they are applicable, but they apply to every man and woman overseas who made the decision to defend out country’s freedoms.

I realized that I may have classes with some veterans, and that I may have never realized it. And to them, if you know me, I want to say sorry for taking you for granted.

I want to say sorry that I never realized that the words honor, bravery, and freedom actually meant something to people, and that the ones that understand those ideologies have risked more in their lives than I can possibly imagine.

To the veterans who attend CSU, whether I know you or not, thank you for the service, the bravery, and the ideals that I have taken for granted.

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