Thousands attend memorial for fallen soldier
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Pat Tillman's decision to walk away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to fight for his country made him a hero to some of the people he used to idolize.
Many celebrities and politicians were among the approximately 3,000 people who came out in his hometown Monday to remember a man so moved by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that he left the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army.
"I was told he admired me but it's the reverse ...," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote in a letter read by his wife, Maria Shriver. "Pat's journey, that's the American dream and he sacrificed that. That to me is a real hero."
Tillman, 27, died April 22 in Afghanistan 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."
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.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players' union, were among those who attended the public memorial at a municipal rose garden.
"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.
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.
"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. R-Ariz., who spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "He was a most honorable man."
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.
"It was an honor to coach Pat," former Cardinals assistant coach Larry Marmie said. "I learned a lot from him. Players often look for the respect from their coaches. I found myself trying to earn Pat's respect."
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 in 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."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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