Monday, May 26, 2014

Pat Tillman: What Motivates You?

Americans celebrate Memorial Day weekend in a variety of ways. Yes, there are the barbecues and festivities that mark the "unofficial start of summer," but I also noticed the intentionality and reverence we give this holiday. For example, today, the Giants and Cubs wore camouflage to honor service members; the national anthem and "God Bless America" were sung with such conviction, I know their messages did not fall on deaf ears. At mass last night, the pastor asked for those who have served in the armed forces to stand. These men and women received a special blessing and the community extended its respect and gratitude with prayers and applause. And, in our nation's capital, the names of the fallen were listed one by one on the Mall.
It took nearly eight hours to read this list. 
The Washington Post reported "Ruth Stonesifer, a quilter from Doylestown, Penn., was the first to approach the wooden lectern in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Saturday morning to begin reading the names of nearly 7,000 U.S. men and women who have died while deployed since Sept. 11, 2001." When I heard this story, I realized that one of those names was Pat Tillman.
Corporal Patrick D. Tillman

It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since the charismatic "man of conscience" died. Killed by fratricide—friendly fire—on April 22, 2004, today his story is one that people aren't sure how to talk about. Why did the initial reports state that he was killed by enemy fire when we knew otherwise? Was he used as a political pawn to justify a war we should not be fighting? Why has the military not come clean about this tragedy? And why is that important? (It is.) Is he still a hero? If so, why? 

To me, Pat is a hero because of his sacrifice and his commitment to things that really matter. His decision to become an Army Ranger with his younger brother Kevin means that he renounced a multi-million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals. The Tillman Story says "He refused to speak to the media about his decision, requesting only to be looked upon as any other soldier." He was counter-cultural through and through. 

Indeed, Pat captured our imagination for a number of reasons. He was an overachiever. He was brilliant and brash. He looked like a man who enjoyed having a really good time yet he married his high school sweet heart Marie. He could be a irreverent and yet his desire to serve our country was so humble and pure. His rugged good looks ought to have served as the perfect profile for recruitment but on the interior, we know that Pat also raised questions about why we were in Afghanistan. Although he grew increasingly disillusioned, he committed to completing his term. Remarkably, his brother did.
Pat with his high school sweetheart and wife, Marie.
I regretted not writing about Pat Tillman on the 10-year anniversary of his death, and yet I have a sense he wouldn't want me to... or on Memorial Day either. So let me conclude with what he would want us to know.

Pat would want us to understand that he never did anything for fame or glory. He didn't enter into a challenge for what he could gain, but rather what he could give. And if there was something to get, it wasn't a worldly or fleeting good. Quite the contrary.
Kevin turned down an opportunity to pursue baseball professionally, to serve in the USMA.
When Pat was asked "What motivates you?" He said "I get a lot of satisfaction out of my family being proud of me. My brothers—I care what they think and how they feel. I want them to be proud of what I'm doing. My mom. My mom ran the San Francisco marathon and she finished last. Dead last. On the sheet...Mary Tillman...the last frickin' name. They were tearing down the race course and she came in and still finished. That says a lot about her. She is a hard working woman."

So on this Memorial Day, I give thanks to the men and women who have served. Their parents, their siblings—their families and friends ought to know they too play a special role in that gift. Thank you Pat Tillman for reminding me of that truth.

Photo Credits
Corporal Tillman 
Pat and Marie

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