Originally created 05/04/04

Tillman, killed in Afghanistan, remembered in hometown



SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Before Pat Tillman was hailed as a national hero for leaving the NFL to fight and die in the mountains of Afghanistan, he was a high school football star with a bright life ahead of him.

Friends, family and other admirers gathered Monday to mourn Tillman in his hometown - to remember a man so moved by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that he walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. Army.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw, a Hall of Fame inductee and executive director of the players' union, were among those expected to attend the public memorial.

Tillman, 27, died April 22 in a firefight near the Pakistan border while helping comrades caught in an ambush. The Army gave few details of how Tillman was killed, but said he was fatally shot while fighting "without regard for his personal safety."

Last week, the military posthumously promoted Tillman, a member of the Army's elite Ranger unit since 2002, from specialist to corporal. He also was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star.

Tillman attended San Jose's Leland High School and was drafted by the Cardinals after starring at Arizona State. He became the Cardinals' starting safety and broke the franchise record for tackles in 2000.

Though he never publicly offered reasons for his decision to join the Army, several friends have said the terrorist attacks affected him deeply.

Tillman was assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and was based at Fort Lewis, Wash.

His death was one of about 100 U.S. soldiers to have been killed in Afghanistan since the United States invaded in 2001. That made him the first NFL player killed in combat since Buffalo offensive tackle Bob Kalsu died in the Vietnam War. Nineteen NFL players were killed in World War II.