By John Turney
|Art by P. Klatt, available HERE|
Tillman was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1997 and as a 7th round pick became a starter for the Arizona Cardinals in 1998. In 2000 Paul Zimmerman named him to his personal Sports Illustrated All-Pro team in a season he made 145 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a pick.
After 9/11 Tillman heeded his personal call to service when he told himself "I haven't done a damn thing for this country". He was offered a three-year $3.6 million contract by the St. Louis Rams, which was matched by the Cardinals and told friends and family he'd have never left the Cardinals because they gave him his chance as a 7th round pick.
So, he and his brother enlisted and by the time the 2002 NFL season would have rolled around he had finished basic training and he was off to Ranger School to become one of the 'elite' and a year later he did just that.
In 2004 he was killed when Army Rangers Steven Elliott and Sgt. Greg Baker opened fire on be Tillman's position, believing there were "no friendlies" in the area. The lighting was poor and the intel was poor according to Elliott who says he has carrier tremendous guilt and has suffered PTSD over the incident.
Baker misidentified an allied Afghan soldier and Tillman enemy combatants and opened fire, killing the Afghan and prompting Elliott and two other Rangers to fire upon "shadowy images" that were later identified to be Tillman and serviceman Bryan O'Neal.
There were reports of Tillman's heroism, and then there was a coverup by the Army, apparently, it was too painful to admit the truth—that an American hero was accidentally killed in action by other Americans.
The coverup prompted conspiracy theories that he was murdered (a belief held by Tillman's mother at one point) but none of that has proven true. What was true is that Tillman had turned against the War effort and opposed then-President Bush and was in contact with Noam Chomsky (and anti-war critic) and told friends that after his service he'd publically oppose the war.
We don't know the facts on all that. Greater minds than ours can search through the evidence and figure it out. All we know is that Tillman didn't have to serve. He chose to, sacrificing millions of dollars to do so and that we respect.
So, in our view, he did do "a damn thing for his county". He set a tremendous example and that's a big thing. A very big thing.
For his service, Tillman was awarded the following medals and badges:
Meritorious Service Medal
Army Achievement Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Army Service Ribbon
Presidential Unit Citation
Joint Meritorious Unit Award
Army Superior Unit Award
US Army Airborne Parachutist Badge
Combat Infantryman Badge