“I haven’t done a thing. My grandfather fought in a war and his dad fought in a war and I’m just a football player. I haven’t done anything and that doesn’t sit well with me.” Those were the word of Pat Tillman, former pro football player turned soldier who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan while an Army Ranger in 2004.
As many in the county did this past Memorial Day weekend, we take time to pause and reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that so many brave men and women have given for the stars and stripes. Grave sites of heroes decorated with flowers and American flags dotted the landscape as we solemnly said thank you to those who gave their lives so we could be standing on those spots honoring them.
““They say that certain people will leave this earth a certain way,” said Tillman’s former teammate Rob Moore. “I think that the way he left was who Pat Tillman was. He’s a guy who was going to fight for the cause. He was fighting for something he truly believed in.”
What did Pat Tillman and millions of others believe in? What makes a man turn down a multi-million dollar contract to play professional football to put on the Army uniform and lay his life on the line? How does a man come to that decision? Tillman and his brother Kevin enlisted at the same time, with Kevin also giving up a professional sports career as he had already signed with the Cleveland Indians. Can you only imagine the conversations those two brothers has as they reached those critical personal decisions?
Neither man knew what fate ultimately lie in store for one of them, but no matter your beliefs on Pat Tillman and his beliefs, his sacrifice deserves to be remembered along with every other soldier killed in action. An ESPN article last month described the final moments of Tillman’s life this way: “Ten years ago, several minutes before 7 on the evening of April 22, Tillman, the square-jawed former NFL safety, was killed instantly by three bullets to the forehead. Sayed Farhad, an allied Afghan soldier standing 10 feet off Tillman’s left shoulder, was killed by an initial burst of fire. Bryan O’Neal, a freshly minted Ranger curled up near a foot-high slab of rock in front of Tillman, somehow survived, later walking down a hill traumatized and covered in Tillman’s warm blood.”
Was that what he was expecting when he signed on? Did Tillman’s decision make him a hero above any others who have given up their comfortable lives here at home to throw themselves into the lines of enemy fire? Is he any more a hero than any of the young men from here in Adams County who never came home? No, he certainly is not and that is the joy of Memorial Day. We celebrate all the heroes.
Obviously, Tillman’s celebrity status made his story much more appealing to the media and it is a tantalizing tale, from his decision to give up the money, to the circumstances surrounding his death, to his atheist beliefs. How many of you though have heard of Bob Kalsu? After a stellar rookie season in the NFL in 1968, Kalsu enlisted in the Army and was sent to Vietnam, where in 1970 he became the only NFL player killed in Vietnam, killed by a mortar shell as he was warning others of an impending North Vietnamese attack. Back home, his second child was born less than 24 hours later.
How do we thank the millions of men and women like these who unselfishly serve their country to preserve the freedoms we enjoy every day of our lives? The truth is that we can’t. We worship so-called heroes in uniform every day, only they usually aren’t military uniforms, they are the uniforms of the sports world. Memorial Day is a day where we can honor the lives and memories of heroes wearing the right uniforms.
I spent a good part of my Memorial Day weekend doing something that I just don’t get the time to do much any more and that is sit down and watch some good war movies. I am especially fond of the old World War II films and I never cease to be amazed at the courage and bravery of those men as they fought enemies bent on changing the world in ways that we wouldn’t even want to imagine. Whether they be soldiers from World War II, Korea, or Vietnam, or those overseas now fighting a totally different kind of war, they deserve our admiration at all times.
My thoughts for you are to make it Memorial Day every chance you get. If you are at a local cemetery visiting a loved one’s grave site, find the final resting place of a veteran and take a moment to pause and say thank you. If your loved one is a veteran, you are truly lucky and blessed. Even though Memorial Day was officially celebrated two days ago, take the time to thank a soldier any way. Thank them for their decision to be a hero and you will be left with a great feeling when you do, a feeling of patriotism and pride. God bless America!