Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman = 24 down, 76 to go

1 Feb

This is my fourth Jon Krakauer book, and once again, he has done an outstanding job of juxtaposing history against a compelling current story. I haven’t read any books surrounding 9/11, and though this doesn’t directly talk about it, 9/11 was the catalyst that for Pat Tillman to abandon his NFL career and sign up for the U.S. Army, along with his brother Kevin.

This book navigates the land mines of the Army’s lies, betrayal and conspiracy after Tillman is killed by friendly fire during his deployment in Afghanistan. From the beginning, the Army, and soon the Bush administration, go to extraordinary lengths to cover up how Tillman was killed. This book – which also details the history of Afghanistan and how its landscape was impacted by the United States, Soviet Union and other parties – uses interviews with Tillman’s wife, Marie, mother and other family members and Tillman’s own journals and letters, as well as interviews with his Army buddies and extensive research to tell his story.

Tillman was a rare person who was unbelievably dedicated and loyal to his family, his friends and his principles. One example of this was that when the Rams offered Pat a five-year, $9.6 million contract, which he turned down to continue to play for the Cardinals with a one-year contract worth $512,000. He declined the offer because of his loyalty to Arizona and the Cardinals. Tillman’s agent, Frank Bauer, said in the book:

In twenty-seven years, I’ve never had a player turn down that big of a package in the National Football League…You just don’t see loyalty like that in sports today. Pat Tillman was special. He was a man of principle. He was a once-in-a-lifetime kid.

And after his first tour in Iraq, Pat could have left the Army on a technicality that would have allowed him to rejoin the NFL. But without hesitation, he decided to stay and fulfill his three-year commitment. Krakauer capsulizes Pat’s philosophy:

He was one of those rare individuals who simply can’t be bought at any price. Although he had no qualms about making a boatload of money if it happened to mesh with his master plan, Pat was impervious to greed. His belief that other things in life took priority over amassing wealth never faltered. But if Tillman was uncommonly resistant to the temptations of the baser human appetites, and was thereby well defended against attempts by others to manipulate him into doing their bidding with such enticements, he found it nearly impossible to resist appeals to his sense of decency and justice. Paradoxically, this latter trait would ultimately prove to be his downfall.

The level of tragedy that the Tillman family had to deal with seems insurmountable to me. It wasn’t just that they lost a beloved member of their family, it’s that the U.S. Army and Bush administration increased the family’s pain exponentially with its conscientious decisions to lie to the family and the American people.

This was a powerful book, one that I highly recommend. Here is a quote from one of Tillman’s journal entries that I found powerful:

Passion is what makes life interesting, what ignites our soul, drives our curiosity, fuels our love and carries our friendships, stimulates our intellect, and pushes our limits…A passion for life is contagious and uplifting. Passion cuts both ways…Those that make you feel on top of the world are equally able to turn it upside down…In my life I want to create passion in my own life and with those I care for. I want to feel, experience, and live every emotion. I will suffer through the bad for the heights of the good.

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