- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2004

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Before Pat Tillman was hailed as a national hero for leaving the NFL to fight and die in the mountains of Afghanistan, he was a local high school football star with a bright life ahead of him.

Friends, family and others gathered yesterday to mourn Tillman in his hometown — to remember a man so moved by the September 11 terrorist attacks that he walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. Army.

“While many of us will be blessed to live a longer life, few of us will ever live a better one,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who spent 51/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “He was a most honorable man.”

Tillman, 27, died April22 in a firefight near the Pakistan border as he was leading his team to help comrades caught in an ambush. The Army gave few details of how Tillman was killed but said he was fatally shot while fighting “without regard for his personal safety.”

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players union, were among those who attended yesterday’s public memorial at a municipal rose garden. Police said 2,000 people had gathered before the ceremony began.



“The underlying thing was his courage and selflessness on the athletic field, in his community and now as a soldier,” Tagliabue told reporters before the service.

Tillman was eulogized by politicians, celebrities, former coaches and family members. Tillman’s brother, Kevin, who served in the same battalion, was also at the ceremony.

California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, read a letter from her husband, who was visiting soldiers in Germany.

“I was told he admired me, but it’s the reverse,” the letter said. “… Pat’s journey, that’s the American dream, and he sacrificed that. That to me is a real hero.”

Shriver said Tillman epitomized the message her uncle, John F. Kennedy, delivered in his presidential inauguration 43 years ago.

“My uncle once said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ You, Pat, have lived those words,” she said.

Last week, the military posthumously promoted Tillman, a member of the Army’s elite Ranger unit since 2002, from specialist to corporal. He also was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star.

Tillman attended San Jose’s Leland High School and was drafted by the Cardinals after starring at Arizona State. He became the Cardinals’ starting safety and broke the franchise record for tackles in 2000.

Though he never publicly offered reasons for his decision to join the Army, several friends have said the terrorist attacks affected him deeply.

“He wasn’t interested in headlines,” Upshaw said. “But he was interested in giving everything for a cause, whatever the cause may be.”

Tillman was assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and was based at Fort Lewis, Wash.

He was one of about 100 U.S. soldiers to have been killed in Afghanistan since the United States invaded in 2001. He is the first NFL player killed in combat since Buffalo offensive tackle Bob Kalsu died in the Vietnam War. Nineteen NFL players were killed in World War II.

“I came to pay my respects,” said Joel Cascio, a San Jose resident who served two years in the Navy during the mid-1960s. “He put his career aside. That’s a courageous thing to do, no matter what walk of life.”

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