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Remember His Name
Gary Smith
September 11, 2006
Even as a boy Pat Tillman felt a destiny, a need to do the right thing whatever it cost him. When the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11, he thought about what he had to do and then walked away from the NFL and became an Army Ranger....
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September 11, 2006

Remember His Name

Even as a boy Pat Tillman felt a destiny, a need to do the right thing whatever it cost him. When the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11, he thought about what he had to do and then walked away from the NFL and became an Army Ranger....

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Pat, who often played football with no pads other than those on his shoulders, shouted back to a trailing sergeant: Could he rip off his body armor so he could really run? Request denied.

Pat and his advancing platoon mates began taking fire from the northern ridgeline as they scrambled toward a hill near the kill zone. A radio operator behind them tried to call Serial 2 to inform them of Serial 1's new position. No response. He tried to call in aerial support. No response.

Pat reached the hill first, and was caught in a crossfire all his own: his need to protect O'Neal, the young Ranger at his side, and his own screaming need to keep going and take out the Taliban threatening his mates and brother. He crested the hill and positioned his two men behind boulders, taking small-arms fire from both ridgelines and firing back. Now they were the ones nearest to the dirt road and to the chaos in the canyon. Pat retraced his steps, went back over the hill, near Russ's position, and asked permission to go even closer and attempt to take out the enemy on the southern ridgeline. The sergeant nodded. Russ watched Pat run back over the crest, vanishing from his view for the last time.

Back in the canyon, Serial 2's lead GMV finally got the jinga driver to move his vehicle, then maneuvered around it. The gorge twisted, and the lead GMV--bristling with a .50-caliber heavy machine gun on the roof, an M240B rack-mounted machine gun, a SAW gun, three M-4s and buckets of adrenaline--got around the bend, to where the canyon opened wide. The squad leader, Baker, saw muzzle flashes on the hill to his right and a bearded Afghan soldier. At last, an enemy position they could fire on, unlike the unreachable enemy atop the canyon walls. Wrong. It was the Afghan soldier 10 to 15 yards from Pat, wearing old U.S. desert camouflage fatigues, firing his AK-47 at the Taliban up on the ridgeline.

"Contact!" someone shouted. Baker began firing his M-4 at the Afghan, just as Pat returned to his position and began to tell O'Neal of his attack plan. The machine guns in the GMV, following Baker's lead, unloaded on the hillside. The Afghan soldier dropped dead.

"Stop! Friendlies! Cease fire!" Pat and the other Black Sheep from Serial 1 screamed from the hill. But the gunners on that lead GMV, still deafened by the blasts inside that tight gorge and now by the .50-caliber gun blazing on the roof, couldn't hear them. The fire from the ridgelines seemed to have ceased, the Taliban apparently in retreat. Pat and his mates raised their arms and waved them back and forth to signal cease-fire. Some of the men in the GMV didn't see the gesture, others didn't recognize its meaning. They kept firing.

The driver of the GMV, meanwhile, had spotted Serial 1's vehicles up ahead and realized those were Black Sheep on the hill. "Friendlies on top!" he shouted. No one heard him. A hot .50-caliber brass casing fell from the roof and burned him. Some of his mates heard his howl of pain and thought he'd been hit by enemy fire, heightening their confusion.

On the hillside Pat heard his young partner's cries from the boulder below his. "Hey, don't worry," Pat called to O'Neal, "I've got something that can help us." Popping up to fling a smoke grenade he hoped would halt the hail of fire, he drew a fusillade of bullets, zinging all around him, pocking his bulletproof vest. The men in the lead GMV thought the smoke had come from an exploding mortar round.

The lead GMV kept moving along the dirt road, but the firing stopped. Russ and O'Neal later recalled seeing it stop, perhaps 33 to 55 yards from Pat's position, and some of the men inside it getting out. The men in the GMV would say later they didn't leave the vehicle and the distance they shot from was never that close. Pat and O'Neal, thinking that at last the gunners had realized their blunder, stood and exchanged a few words of relief.

Suddenly, the machine guns opened up again. "Cease fire, friendlies!" Pat howled in disbelief. Russ, hugging the ground, waiting to be hit, heard Pat screaming words he never would have for the first 27 years, five months and 15 days of his life: "I am Pat f------ Tillman, dammit! I am Pat f------ Tillman!"

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