Pat Tillman, who gave up his pro football career to enlist in the U.S. Army after the terrorist attacks of September 11, is killed by friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The news that Tillman, age 27, was mistakenly gunned down by his fellow Rangers, rather than enemy forces, was initially covered up by the U.S. military.
Patrick Daniel Tillman was born the oldest of three brothers on November 6, 1976, in San Jose, California. He played linebacker for Arizona State University, where during his senior year he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. In 1998, Tillman was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. He became the team’s starting safety as well as one of its most popular players. In 2000, he broke the team record for tackles with 224. In May 2002, Tillman turned down a three-year, multi-million-dollar deal with the Cardinals and instead, prompted by the events of 9/11, joined the Army along with his brother Kevin, a minor-league baseball player. The Tillman brothers were assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington, and did tours in Iraq in 2003, followed by Afghanistan the next year.
On April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed by gunfire while on patrol in a rugged area of eastern Afghanistan. The Army initially maintained that Tillman and his unit were ambushed by enemy forces. Tillman was praised as a national hero, awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals and posthumously promoted to corporal. Weeks later, Tillman’s family learned his death had been accidental. His parents publicly criticized the Army, saying they had been intentionally deceived by military officials who wanted to use their son as a patriotic poster boy. They believed their son’s death was initially covered up by military officials because it could’ve undermined support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A criminal investigation was eventually launched into the case and in 2007 the Army censured retired three-star general Philip Kensinger, who was in charge of special operations at the time of Tillman’s death, for lying to investigators and making other mistakes. “Memorandums of concern” were also sent to several brigadier generals and lower-ranking officers who the Army believed acted improperly in the case.