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OPINION: Let Pat Tillman rest in peace on Memorial Day



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Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, addresses a memorial service for Pat Tillman on May 3, 2004, at the Rose Garden in San Jose, California. Tribune News Service

The use of Pat Tillman’s story every Memorial Day on social media by politicians and sports media organizations is disgusting. The Army Ranger and former NFL player's death was sensationalized and used to fuel war propoganda. Today, the intentions behind using his story are ignorant to Tillman’s views of the Iraq war and the fact the U.S. Army lied about the nature of his death. 

Tillman may be the most famous U.S. veteran post-9/11. The former NFL player was an emerging star in the league, but he turned down a three-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army in June 2002. 

Two years later, Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. Originally, the Army said he was killed while being ambushed by enemy forces, which turned out to be a lie. Once that story was disproven, they spun it as an accidental friendly fire killing. Army medical examiners found there were three gunshot wounds in Tillman's forehead and that it appeared Tillman was shot from around ten yards away.

The Army didn’t admit any wrongdoing until five weeks after his death. It’s common practice to send any forensic evidence back to the U.S. with the body of a fallen soldier. In Tillman’s case his uniform was burned, and his helmet was gone. They got rid of evidence to politicize his death as a killing by Al-Qaeda—whether or not it was accidental is the question. I’m not convinced either way, but I don’t trust anything the Army has to say about it considering it took them over a month to admit he was killed by his own men. 

Tillman’s brother Richard had a lot to say after the death of his brother in the following weeks. At Pat’s service, Richard criticized speakers who said his brother was in heaven. 

"Just make no mistake, he's not with God,” Richard said. “He's fucking dead. He's not religious. Thanks for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead."

If the goal was for Pat to become the poster boy of service and patriotism, the U.S. got what it wanted. Sixteen years after his death, SportsCenter still posts every year on Memorial Day about the hero that turned down $3.6 million to go serve his country. 

It’s a joke that Tillman’s story is spun this way. Based on his journal entries and firsthand accounts of soldiers he serves with, including his brother Kevin, Tillman didn’t believe in what the U.S. was doing in the war, calling it “illegal as hell.”

Some view Tillman as a war hero who went down in the line of duty. In reality, he was a brave man who was conflicted about serving in a war he didn’t agree with and he was used by his country rather than taken care of by it. It’s propaganda, and it's shameful. 

It’s well past time to stop using his story as some sort of false patriotism. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your country, and there’s nothing wrong with being critical, like Tillman was, of a pointless war. The gross mishandling and the Army's responsibility in Tillman's death are the problems I have, and it's well past time to stop using him as pro-Army propaganda.

“Pat’s a fucking champion, and he always will be,” Richard said.

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