Tillman#8217;s parents still looking for answers

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 3, 2006

Any news about Pat Tillman hits San Jose with an extra punch in the gut. Tillman grew up here, played football at Leland High School, made great friends who stuck with him throughout his brief life. Tillman’s memorial service at the Rose Garden city park was nationally televised, but the mourners were almost all local.

In the beginning, Tillman’s story was inspiring, tragic and simple. Tillman left behind a rich pro football career to join the Army Rangers. He fought for a cause in which he believed. He was killed in April 2004 while on patrol in Afghanistan.

Then things grew complicated.

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Pressed by Tillman’s parents, who weren’t satisfied with the Army’s original vague explanation of their son’s death, an investigation revealed that Tillman was the victim of friendly fire, shot by American troops in the fog of war. His uniform and his body armor were burned the next day by his fellow troops, making the truth even more difficult to discern. This initial investigation was followed by another, and another.

Now, in yet one more twist, comes the announcement that the Pentagon has launched a criminal probe into Tillman’s death. Internet message boards have whipped up conspiracy theories, wondering who Tillman’s real enemies might have been. Some people say it’s wrong to give him more honor and glory than our other dead soldiers. Some say that anyone who questions the Army is being disrespectful.

All of it must be incredibly painful for Tillman’s parents, who haven’t spoken to any local reporters about their feelings, but have expressed their distress to the Washington Post. That’s their right. As I say, this is complicated stuff. Very complicated.

But guess what? None of it has anything to do with Tillman’s spirit, or with the qualities he brought to the table as a football player and human being _ namely, considerable passion, insatiable curiosity and an almost demented love for his sport. In my few brief interviews with the guy, his energy practically leaked out of his body into my notebook.

So let me simplify one part of this for you. If you empathize at all with Tillman’s friends and family as they cope with these complications, or if you admired Tillman in any way, or if you want to pay tribute to the American troops who fought alongside him, let me offer you this suggestion:


On April 30 in South San Jose, the Pat Tillman Foundation will sponsor a fundraising footrace. It will be called Pat’s Run. Proceeds will finance the Leadership Through Action program, which educates young men and women to develop programs that will benefit their local communities.

Mark Purdy is a KRT columnist.

Alex Garwood, Tillman’s friend and brother-in-law, is executive director of the Tillman Foundation. Sunday, I called Garwood for an update on the race, but also wondered how he and the family were handling the latest news.

&uot;Our focus is on the foundation,&uot; Garwood said, politely. &uot;It’s on Leadership Through Action. It’s on Pat’s Run. You can ask me about any of the other stuff. But I will keep coming back to that.&uot;

Details of the event can be found at the organization’s Web site, PatTillmanFoundation.org. But it is the California version of the first Pat’s Run, which was held last spring at Tillman’s alma mater, Arizona State University. Almost 6,000 people participated.

Here, our own Pat’s Run will travel a great symbolic route. Tillman’s jersey number was 42 at Leland High, so the course will be 4.2 miles long. It will take runners past Tillman’s elementary school and middle school, then finish on the 42-yard line of Leland’s football stadium.

&uot;We’re moving along well, trying to capitalize on the success from Arizona,&uot; Garwood said. &uot;It’s going to be a great way to celebrate and be part of something good. If people don’t want to run or walk, we’ll be having a family festival, with ice cream and music and a bounce house.&uot;

In Arizona, an entire grade-school class _ one that Tillman visited while playing with the NFL Cardinals _ showed up and ran the race. Some soldiers showed up and ran in boots while carrying military backpacks. Garwood hopes the same will happen here. The first Leadership Through Action program is under way at Arizona State, where &uot;Tillman Scholars&uot; are creating various ways to benefit the Tempe and Phoenix areas.

&uot;It’s going really well,&uot; Garwood said. &uot;The students are all fired up to be a part of it. They’re stepping up. … And anything we raise from here in San Jose will stay here as we bring the program to South Bay high schools. We’re still working out the details.&uot;

As fate has it, the Pat’s Run in San Jose will be held the weekend of the NFL draft. If you’re looking to honor a man who was the country’s ultimate teammate, get out your sneakers. Tillman’s old neighborhood will be glad to see you. His family, too.