He was drafted 226 out of 241 players the year he was drafted. That’s near the end. He got the last scholarship at Arizona State, ended up on the bench, but in both instances he was starting when he was expected to not even make either his college or his pro football team. And after 9/11 happened, he decided that he had to take matters into his own hands and pay people back for what had happened.
Now, a lot of people today — and I’ve seen it in the media and I’m getting a lot of email and it was my reaction too. I mean, we’re all the same here. A lot of people are going, “Oh, this is horrible. Oh, this is absolutely terrible. This man was a hero, gave up a multimillion dollar contract to serve his country.” And all of that is true and I don’t mean to diminish any of that. In fact, I want to build that up.
I want to say that Pat Tillman’s not unique. You know, there’s a controversy that’s raging in this country today. All of these photos of the flag-draped coffins that have come back from either Afghanistan or Iraq. They’re at Dover and there’s a controversy over who took these pictures and they shouldn’t be published and somebody should be fired. Somebody was fired, and the truth of the matter is, ladies and gentlemen, there’s a Pat Tillman in each and every one of those coffins. There are people who have been killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq that we don’t know. Their families feel as devastated as Pat Tillman’s family feels.
Those who are friends and know of the others who have died feel the same way we all feel about Pat Tillman today. The point is, they’re all special, and they are all heroes, and they are from all walks of American life. They are from all races. They’re from all religions. They’re from all socioeconomic backgrounds. All this talk recently about we need a draft because the rich and white of America are not serving, it’s all hocus-pocus. This is a far different country in terms of patriotism than it was in the 1970s. Compare the actions being taken against America by some of her own citizens then to the actions of people like Pat Tillman.
The point that’s been driven home today with the shocking announcement of the death of Pat Tillman is that there are 160 dead in Afghanistan, 700 dead in Iraq — a total of 860 Pat Tillmans. They’re all Americans, and they are all heroes. This is one of these things that’s just too strange for a coincidence, but I was doing show prep today. There’s a story I want to read to you from the Chicago Tribune, and it’s about another American hero killed in Iraq. It’s about his family and about him. The headline: “Marine’s Parents Reject Chance to Politicize Death.” Now, I want to warn you, this is going to get to you, as I read this. Just stick with me on this, because it’s going to grab you.
It’s going to grab your heart and it’s going to grab your gut, and it’s going to make you realize what being an American is. It’s going to drive that point home. We all know what it is, but it’s going to drive home the point just how special these people are, that there are people who are willing to die, and offer their lives, for freedom for everybody. Not just Americans, but around the world. Pat Tillman was one, and so are all of the others — whose names we don’t know, but whose families are well aware that they’ve died and whose friends are well aware. They may not be getting media coverage but their deaths hurt and shock just as much to the people who know all of those who have died, as Pat Tillman’s death shocks and saddens us. [Reading:]
“When their son died in battle a few weeks ago, Roy and Georgette Frank were offered an invitation. It came in the form of questions in that first rush of interviews after Marine Lance Cpl. Phil Frank, 20, was killed in Iraq in early April. ‘One reporter asked me, “Under the circumstances, do you feel that your son died in vain?”‘ Roy Frank recalled. If the Franks had provided news people with active anger on tape and a hard political angle — ‘Parents of Slain Marine Condemn President’–they would have made a media impact. A question about whether the soldier died in vain is hard, yet it’s legitimate. Even hard questions may be freely asked in a nation of free people during war.
“Yet it was also a subtle invitation. If the Franks wanted to dance, this was their chance. If they’d accepted, their street would have been crowded with news vans for days. Producers would have invited them to vent their anger again and again, spontaneously, between commercial breaks for kitchen cleansers and brokerage firms. Operatives would have asked them to political rallies. Their comments would have been deployed in political arguments, used to grind axes in the op-ed pages. And so the Frank family — who were living in New Jersey when terrorists attacked New York on Sept. 11, 2001 — would have been forever transformed.
“They would have been altered like the Jersey Girls, the women who lost husbands on 9/11. The Jersey Girls attend the 9/11 Commission Hearings. They applaud loudly at times, as if on cue. They represent themselves, but not all the families of those who lost loved ones on that day. In news accounts, the Jersey Girls are often described as non-partisan, but they are clearly part of a partisan political subtext in the presidential campaign. And the Franks chose not to transform themselves or their fallen Marine son in that way. The Franks now live in Elk Grove Village, Illionios. Their living room is filled with photos of their son: In his Marine dress uniform, in fatigues, or goofing around with friends at a pool, and so on.
“The Franks talked about questions they’ve been asked, such as the one to Roy asking if his son died in vain. ‘And I said, “No,” Roy said. ‘The only circumstances I could ever imagine where I could say that I believe my son died in vain is if the United States then turned around from that country and did not complete the mission to free those people and to make that government independent.’ What do you say to parents of volunteer soldiers killed in Iraq who make political statements? ‘It’s their freedom to express,’ Roy said. ‘I can’t get angry because, God help us, we all share that incredible pain and loss. Some people react in a different way. Some people express their grief with anger and blame and point fingers.’ Georgette Frank also had no criticism of families of fallen soldiers who react angrily, even politically. ‘I can’t fault those people,’ she said. ‘That’s their opinion — that’s what America is all about. That’s what my son went to bring over there, so that somebody in Iraq could stand up and say, ‘I don’t agree with the way you’re doing this,’ without ending up in a torture chamber or watching his daughter get raped.
“‘That’s why my son was there. And what more could a parent ask? What more could I ask of my son than he have that kind of ideal?’ Yet she understands why some parents feel the urge to blame the White House. ‘Maybe it eases pain for somebody to be able to point a finger and say, “It’s your fault.” You need to transfer that guilt. But when Phil left, he left with such determination and purpose and he was so clear thinking about where he was going, why he was going. He said, “No matter what happens, remember I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I’m with the corps that I love and I will go where I’m needed.” His final words were, “No matter what.” And I respect my son. Why would I not respect that part of what he wanted to do? Why would I get angry?’
“Then the Franks played a home videotape. It was of their fallen son and the family last Christmas. Phil Frank had been through boot camp and looked it. He was married to his wife, Keri, his high-school sweetheart. In the video, the strong young Marine held a drink and approached his friends and family, one by one. He toasted each person there. He thanked each individual for specific things they’d done for him, for the influence each of them had on his young life. ‘Here’s to you on that one,’ Phil Frank said after each and every toast. This toasting lasted several minutes. Then Phil walked up to his mother. The camera followed the young Marine as he held his mother Georgette in his arms for a long time. ‘This is my favorite part,’ Georgette said, watching the tape. ‘This is where I get to hug him.'”
She won’t be able to hug him anymore. So we all mourn the loss of Pat Tillman and we are all shocked and we all feel absolutely horrible about it, but it brings home the fact that there are all kinds of Pat Tillmans that are serving their country, volunteering to serve their country. They do not deserve to be besmirched. They do not deserve to have their qualifications or their character impugned by virtue of their socioeconomic circumstances or by the nature of their past. They need to be judged by the level of commitment they have made to their country and to their families and to the people for whom they are offering their lives in sacrifice for freedom. Peggy Noonan, writing about Pat Tillman’s decision to go to the Army Rangers training school back in July of 2002 said this:
“We are making a lot of Tillmans in America, and one wonders if this has been sufficiently noted. The other day friends, a conservative intellectual and his activist wife, sent a picture of their son Gabe, a proud and newly minted Marine. And there is Abe, son of a former high aide to Al Gore, who is a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy, flying SH-60 Seahawk helicopters. A network journalist and his wife, also friends, speak with anguished pride of their son, in harm’s way as a full corporal in the Marines. The son of a noted historian has joined up; the son of a conservative columnist has just finished his hitch in the Marines; and the son of a bureau chief of a famous magazine was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army last month, on the day he graduated from Princeton.
“As the Vietnam-era song said, ‘Something’s happening here.’ And what it is may be exactly clear. Some very talented young men, and women, are joining the armed forces in order to help their country because, apparently, they love it. After what our society and culture have been through and become the past 30 years or so, you wouldn’t be sure that we would still be making their kind, but we are. As for their spirit, Abe’s mother reports, “Last New Year’s, Abe and his roommate [another young officer] were home and the topic came up about how little they are paid [compared with] the kids who graduated from college at the same time they did and went into business. ‘Without missing a beat the two of them said, “Yeah–but we get to get shot at!” and raised their beer bottles. No resentment. No anger. Just pure . . . testosterone-laden bravado.'”
Doing what they want to do, folks. They’re volunteering, signing up. They love their country. They are to be honored as we’ve always said on this program. They are not to be remembered as they have once been portrayed by a particular presidential candidate — it pains me to say that — but Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan brings home the reality of just who it is that’s defending this country, who is volunteering to do it, who they are, the kind of people they are, what they’re made of, and the kind of country that produce them, families and parents that produce them, and the country they come from.
Just remember when you hear this controversy over the flag-draped coffins — which I, frankly, find no offense at all when I see these pictures. I’m in awe of it, to tell you the truth, and I don’t think there’s anything negative about that. Well, that’s not the way to put it. I’m not outraged by the sight of those pictures. But today, when you see them as this controversy is probably going to rage today for a little longer, just realize this whole Pat Tillman story has personalized it for all of us for all of these people who are risking their lives, and those who have lost theirs, because in every one of those flag-draped coffins, there is a Pat Tillman, an American. They deserve to be honored and respected, not criticized, not judged, not impugned, and not used to advance particular political agendas.
I had this program all planned out today, and it was going to start like the last programs have in the past two or three days, with raucous, uncontrollable laughter, genuinely brought about by the actions of one of our presidential candidates, and of course there’s no way that I could start that way today, but I’m going to tell you this: we are going to get to it because that’s what all of this is all about. We’re going to have a program here, and I understand that many of you might want to weigh in on the news and how it’s affected you, and it’s just a tough thing. I was watching the media all day today — this is not criticism; please don’t misunderstand — I’m watching the media go on and on and on about Pat Tillman and it just made me realize they’re all Pat Tillmans. It’s just they’re anonymous and he’s not, and the story of Pat Tillman was well-known before he even tried to join the Rangers.
And there may be a few things about Pat Tillman you may not know that add a little bit to this. That is, he’s always marched to a different drummer and he’s always — one of his teammates called him a Forrest Gump. Frank Sanders, one of his teammates on the Arizona Cardinals. “He’s like Forrest Gump. He’ll just try anything. He’s never satisfied and he’s always pushing himself,” and that’s what this attempt to join the Rangers was. When he made the announcement he was going to join the Rangers, there were people that poo-pooed the fact that he’d be able to do it. He was too big a free spirit, he’d been a long haired, maggot infested, dope-smoking FM type for a long time during college and some people said, “Well, you know, these football guys, they think they’re tough but they have no idea what it’s like to be a Ranger,” and that’s probably true.
But you shouldn’t, at the same time, of all the professional sports, I think football players go through the most rigorous training. That might prepare them. But Ranger school, after you go through your basic — 13 weeks of basic and Ranger — then you go three weeks of airborne and then… No, I’ve got it wrong. It’s 10 weeks of Ranger after all that. It’s special forces after that. It’s tough. Two-thirds of the people that try don’t make it. He and his brother did, and from the moment they made their decision, they didn’t grant one interview. It wasn’t about publicity. It wasn’t about ultimately coming home and making a lot of money. It wasn’t about recognition. The Army would have loved it. The Army would have loved to be able to have a camera follow this guy around for recruiting purposes. He wouldn’t hear of it. Didn’t want any part of it. He was doing this for himself and his country. As are they all, my friends.
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