Monday, November 10, 2014

Profiles of a Veteran: From Yepremian to Tillman

His life touched my students' lives. We
watched "The Tillman Story" in class.
Sent by a former student...
I respect that governmental agencies, banks and many schools observe Veteran's Day on the actual day: November 11. It's not just the "second Tuesday in November" or the "last Monday in May." No, it's historical significance it worth remembering. As written on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website
World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
The men and women who serve in our armed forces are as diverse as the geography of our great country. And athletics has brought to my attention the profiles of two men who share common passions and pursuits but couldn't be more different. Both are veterans and both are worth remembering.

This past Saturday, as I watched Notre Dame play Arizona State, I could not help but notice the traces of Pat Tillman that color Sun Devil Stadium. For those unfamiliar with his story, states "Football player Pat Tillman enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002. He was killed in action in 2004, and the exact circumstances of his death are still in question." After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Tillman responded to a call of conscience to serve in the military. He convinced his younger brother Kevin to do the same.

Today, players at ASU emerge through the Tillman Tunnel. His number, 42 is retired and hangs with honor for all to see. I hope on Veteran's Day tomorrow, they will take an additional moment to pause and recognize what giving of ourselves in service might mean. For Pat, it was death; and death too soon. But his life reminds me death is not an end. His legacy lives on. I see this in Pat's Run, the Tillman Scholarship Fund and ever more movies, articles and books written about his life.
Sports fans love Pat Tillman because his story is unique (and tragic). But Garo Yepremian an Armenian-American placekicker who played from 1966-1981 in the National Football League is too. Born on June 2, 1944 in Lamaca Cyprus, Yepremian reminds me that one need not even be born in the United States to serve in the military.

According to a photo card given to a friend by Yepremian's son, "at the age of 16 he moved to London and later to Indianapolis, Indiana at the suggestion of his brother Krikor. He came not with thoughts of fame or fortune, but with the hope of a college scholarship by kicking something his brother called a "football."

"Garo's only experience had been in soccer and his knowledge of American football was practically non-existent. He began practicing but was disappointed to learn that his soccer background prevented him from collegiate competition as ruled by the NCAA. This did not stop Garo. He continued to practice kicking at Butler University. By good fortune, he was seen, discovered and signed by the NFL. He played for the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers."

"From 1966 through 1981 he only missed one season, 1969 when he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army. He remains the 9th leading scorer in NFL history and holds the third best percentage rating for field-goal kicking."

He accomplished great things on the field and in life. Renouncing a professional career to serve during the height of the Vietnam War is a selfless act. I wonder how many other men and women considered giving a little more as a result of his example.

And an additional part of his legacy are his "golden rules in the sport life." Check them out!
I'm grateful for these profiles in courage. Anyone who gives their life in service gives me pause to recognize where in my own life am I doing the same. Thank you to the men, women and their families who support them, past and present for protecting our freedoms and more.

Photo Credits
Tillman Tunnel

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