Pat Tillman would probably want to be commemorated by nothing more than the simple hush we devote to other lost infantrymen we didn’t know. He no doubt would have preferred that we dwell instead on the photographs of those caskets draped in flags coming home from Iraq. He would surely disapprove of so much attention diverted to a single serviceman, simply because he played football. In the two years since he abandoned his NFL career and enlisted to become an Army Ranger, he steadfastly declined interviews and refused to use his military experience for renown or profit.
Instead, he embodied the words of an anonymous war poet: “I was that which others cared not to be. I went where others feared to go and did what others failed to do. I asked nothing from those that gave nothing . . . ”
War poets may be the only voices capable of speaking to the loss of Tillman, who gave everything. “Tilly” to his friends, he was killed in action in Afghanistan on Thursday because, as he put it, his life as a football player was privileged and he needed, he said, to “pay something back.” While he wished to be just another soldier, he never was, because he made the war personal to us. For better or worse we imagine an intimacy with our hero-athletes. Sacrifice now has a face, and a voice.