Op/Ed: A Champion For His Country

JD Lock, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

Published - Star Ledger, 27 April 2004 (Page 15)

Since the birth of this great nation, there have been only two wars in the past 192 years that were the result of enemy attacks launched directly against the United States. The first occurred on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. In response to that "day of infamy,' professional athletes voluntarily enlisted or were drafted by the thousands. Within the professional baseball ranks alone, 5,400 of 5,800 players served in uniform.

The second attack occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, with another surprise attack by international terrorists against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In response to that 21st-century "day of infamy," only one professional athlete enlisted. Not only did Pat Tillman volunteer to serve his nation in uniform, but he chose to serve it by enlisting in one of the world's most elite combat units, the 75th Ranger Regiment, thus virtually guaranteeing that he would engage America's enemies in ground combat.

Sir Winston Churchill once noted that "Courage is the first of the human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all of the others." In World War II, the "greatest generation" was the face of courage. In the global war on terror, the face of courage is the face of Pat Tillman and the tens of thousands of others like him who have volunteered to serve and to fight America's enemies. From a greatest generation of professional athletes who served in their nation's defense, we have devolved to an uninspired generation of professional athletes who were represented by their only "greatest" member, Pat Tillman, a virtual Lone Ranger. Sadly, it took this man's death to realize that.

Will Tillman's death -- his "last full measure of devotion" for the Stars and Stripes he so dearly loved -- have a lasting impact? Only time will tell. But it should serve as a wakeup call and a point to ponder for all Americans of service age, especially for our hyped national "heroes," the professional and excessively pampered athletes.

For those game "warriors" who so easily talk of titanic struggle, battle and war on the fields of friendly strife, it is best to recall William Shakespeare's King Henry V, Act 4, Scene III:

 

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

For he today that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condi tion.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

America's professional athletes, "gentlemen in England now a-bed," should hold their manhoods cheap, for Pat Tillman shed his blood for them and fought their Saint Crispin's day.

All deaths are tragic, but some seem more tragic than others. An American warrior was Pat Tillman. When one dies so tragically young, there is no finer epitaph, and my heart swells with pride knowing that this nation still produces such fine young men -- even if they are fewer in number than in generations before, even if there are fewer willing to place themselves in harm's way while the rest of us sleep safely in our beds each night.

I am humbled by Pat Tillman's character, selfless service and personal sacrifice. While others of his profession talk the walk, he not only walked it but ran. I pray that, if only for a moment, his manly peers "shall think themselves accursed" that they were not there when his blood ran red as he lay dying in a foreign land on their behalf.