Patrick and Mary Tillman welcomed their first baby boy, Patrick Daniel Tillman, on November 6, 1976. Just as their baby boy changed their lives by making them parents, Pat continued to change the lives of millions of Americans by living a life of loyalty and sacrifice—and he did it all within a short lifetime of just 27 years.
If you don’t know Pat Tillman, take a few minutes to get to know him and find out why this man and the heroes like him deserve to be remembered.
Tillman’s Early Life and Childhood
Pat Tillman was raised with his two younger brothers in San Jose, California, and he grew up a fun-loving little boy who was an avid reader. Even as a kid, he was loyally devoted to his family and friends, doing everything he could for those he loved.
He started playing football as a linebacker at Leland High School, and he quickly excelled at the sport, leading his team to the Central Coast Division I Football Championship. When he graduated high school, he accepted a scholarship to play football at Arizona State University. He was both a talented athlete and a brilliant student. He was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the Arizona State University Most Valued Player of the Year in 1997, and he won the Clyde B. Smith Academic Award two years in a row in 1996 and 1997.
After his successful college football career, he was drafted into the NFL in 1998 and played as a safety for the Arizona Cardinals. The loyalty he exhibited towards his family and friends as a boy carried over to his NFL team, and he turned down a multi-million dollar contract playing for the St. Louis Rams in order to stay with the Cardinals. Pat’s integrity set him apart, and eventually, it led him to something else entirely.
Putting Country over Career
In 2002, in light of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, loyalty to the United States inspired Pat and his younger brother Kevin to take action. The brothers, who both had budding and lucrative sporting careers (Pat in the NFL, Kevin in the MBA), left their professional dreams to join the Army. Of his decision to join the military, Tillman said, “Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful. However, these last few years, and especially after recent events, I’ve come to appreciate just how shallow and insignificant my role is . . . It’s no longer important.”
Just as he had excelled in his football career, he showed great talent in his military service. After completing basic training in September of 2002, he and his brother were deployed, and both participated in the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon returning from Iraq, Tillman enrolled in Ranger School and graduated in November 2003. After graduating and becoming an Army ranger, he was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan.
Tragic Death of a Hero
While on a tour in Afghanistan, the vehicle being driven by Tillman’s platoon broke down during a routine search of an Afghani village, and the platoon was forced to split up. While half of the platoon stayed behind to fix the vehicle, Tillman went with the other half to finish the search. The troops who stayed behind were attacked by the Taliban, and Tillman’s half of the soldiers ran to the rescue. Tragically, they were misidentified as enemy troops, and Tillman was killed in friendly fire on April 22, 2004.
Tillman’s Legacy Lives On
After his death, Tillman’s legacy of loyalty, love, talent, and brilliance was honored in many ways. His official memorial ceremony was televised on May 3, 2004. He was promoted to Corporal and honored with the Silver Star and Purple Heart awards posthumously.
His talent and loyalty on the football field were also remembered after his death. ASU and the Arizona Cardinals retired Tillman’s jersey numbers (#42 and #40 respectively), and in May 2010, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Tillman’s wife, his high school sweetheart, Marie Ugenti Tillman, founded the Pat Tillman Foundation, which gives veterans and their spouses scholarships to continue and complete their college degrees. The Pat Tillman Foundation partnered with the NFL to create a scholarship for student athletes who embody Tillman’s loyalty and ambition.
Low VA Rates is honored to give back to brave men and women like Pat Tillman and his loved ones. One way we do this is by offering a scholarship of our own, which aids military service members and their families as they pursue a higher education. For more information on this scholarship or on the other services we provide, visit our website.