Friday, April 23, 2004

Honor

Pat Tillman, the NFL player who felt so compelled to serve America in the wake of Sept. 11 that he quit football and became an Army Ranger, was killed in combat yesterday in Afghanistan.



The Web is full of tributes to Tillman, and I'm not breaking any ground by writing about his amazing heroism, but his courage, character and sacrifice is so unique, I feel the need to take note of it myself.

You often hear people referred to as "heroic", "courageous", "honorable" or whatever. Usually, those kind of terms are thrown around without much merit. An athlete who plays through an injury may be called "heroic" ... a cancer patient is "courageous" for putting up with chemotherapy ... and we stick "honorable" in front of the names of judges and congressmen for no reason whatsoever.

But in Tillman, we saw a man who absolutely and unquestionably personified those terms. And not because he gave up a job that paid $1.2 million a year.

The honor, courage and heroism of Pat Tillman was demonstrated by a sense of duty that led him to put his life at risk and on hold for the benefit of his country. He was 25 years old when he enlisted. He was recently married and, yes, he had a pretty good job.

However, the deep-held sense of honor and duty in Tillman compelled him to do something to fight terrorism and protect America. He put that duty ahead of his own interests. Not many of us - no matter what we do for a living - would do that.

When I read about Tillman joining the Army two years ago, I tried to figure out his "angle". It would make a great book once he was done, I figured. Maybe he saw this as a way to cash in long-term. He could be the next host of Survivor when he got back or something.

But then I read a little more. There must be an "honor" gene that people such as Tillman - and his younger brother Kevin, a minor-league baseball player who joined the Army with Pat - carry. The year before enlisting, Tillman turned down more money to leave the Arizona Cardinals because he had loyalty to the team. After enlisting, he refused to give interviews, have photos taken or in any way call attention to his "celebrity soldier" status. He became a soldier, plain and simple.

He didn't plan to profit from his stint in the Army. He just felt a duty to serve.

Some stuff you might be interested in reading about Tillman:

- Remembering Pat Tillman (nfl.com)
- Remembering Pat Tillman (si.com)
- Doom of the well-known soldier (espn.com)
- The few ... the proud (espn.com)
- Original story on enlistment (nfl.com)
- Tillman follows beat of different drum (nfl.com)
- The NFL's wartime casualties

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