Remember Pat Tillman, his sacrifice

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2005

He never wanted to be treated special. He never wanted to be singled out. He never once self-promoted his sacrifice.

In fact, he never would submit to an interview about leaving his newlywed wife at home and leaving millions of NFL dollars on the table to join the Army Rangers during those ominous times after 9/11.

And then he died, and he got everything he never wanted.

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The government tried to turn Pat Tillman into a martyr. The military storytellers tried to turn his tragic, real-life death into a fictionalized, made-for-TV movie. The Army motto is made up of three words - "Duty, honor, country." But somewhere in this sad story, honor got squeezed out.

On this Memorial Day weekend, let us remember that Pat Tillman and millions of others have died fighting for truth, justice and freedom. But let us also remember that without truth, there is no justice. And without truth and justice, is freedom really worth fighting for?

Last week in interviews with the The Washington Post, Tillman's parents, Mary and Patrick Sr., lashed out at the military for lying to them and us about their son's death.

"After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this," Tillman's father told The Post.

Following Tillman's death in the mountains of Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, we were told Tillman was killed as he led a group of men up a hill into the thunder of enemy fire. Army accounts after Tillman's death described how Tillman had safely escaped an enemy assault, but he bravely went back to rescue others.

Lies. All lies.

The real truth didn't come out until weeks later. Until after Tillman's memorial service was over. Until after he was put up as an unselfish symbol to an uneasy nation battling an unknown enemy.

That's when we learned Tillman was actually killed accidentally by American troops. The government knew it all along.

"The military let him down," Tillman's mother told The Post. "The administration let him down. It was a sign of disrespect. The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic."

When did this happen - when did finding weapons of mass destruction suddenly turn into telling whoppers of mass distortion?

Who would have ever thought the United States Army would take an American tragedy and put it on steroids?

Pat Tillman died fighting for his country.

Isn't that enough?

He gave up the American dream to defend it. He gave up the NFL's five-star lifestyle to sleep in a cave.

Terrell Owens decided to go to war to fight for a contract extension that will pay him a few million extra; Tillman decided to go to war to fight the terrorists who flew those airplanes into our buildings.

No matter how he died, Pat Tillman is a true American hero. And that's the truth.

Mike Bianchi is a sports columnist for The Orlando Sentinel.