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Tillman’s memory sparks action, not words
TEMPE, ARIZ. (AP) - The south steps of Arizona State’s football stadium became a shrine in the days after Pat Tillman’s death, covered in flags and flowers, signs and mementos.
Tributes to the NFL star-turned-soldier continued to pop up across the country in the weeks and months that followed _ stadiums, street signs, awards, even children named in his honor. More substantial memorials came in subsequent years: a statue outside Arizona's NFL stadium, a bridge high above the massive Hoover Dam, a veteran’s center at the Arizona State University.
For all that brick and bronze, no monument captures his spirit. That’s carried on through the good deeds and stunning accomplishments of the thousands he inspired.
This is their story _ the story of what Pat Tillman left behind.
“People reacted emotionally across the country and around the world about his decision to leave football and join the Army, and then when he was killed it had a profound impact on people,” said Marie Tillman, Pat’s widow. “It’s great to hear (what people have done in his name) because it is the lasting legacy he leaves.”
A standout safety with the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman became a national symbol when he left behind a huge contract and a new bride to join the Army eight months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
His death three years later in the mountains of Afghanistan hit the country like a sucker punch and it only got worse when it was revealed he had been killed by friendly fire. Later, a flurry of outrage followed when the Tillman family helped uncover misleading statements and actions by the U.S. government surrounding Pat’s death.
Those close to him remember an unpretentious guy, determined and thoughtful, yet inspiring, too. To them, his legacy isn’t simply a pump-up, something to make people feel good about themselves. It’s a call to action.
In the seven years since his death, those who knew or met Tillman, and even people who only heard his story, have been pushed past their comfort levels to do things they never thought they could.
The hot desert sun reduced to slivers by the living room blinds, Sheldon Davidson quietly weeps in his wheelchair.
Describing his first attempt at Pat’s Run after suffering a stroke, the 60-year-old war veteran is overcome with emotion as he recalls how the memory of Tillman pushed him to the finish line when his body felt like it couldn’t go on.
“Pat used to climb up to the light tower to think and I pictured him up there, watching over me,” Davidson said at his home in Mesa. “I felt like he was up there watching over me and that’s what kept me going. I wasn’t going to stop.”
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