Recommended Memorial Day Reading: the story of Pat Tillman

Pat just had that way, with colonels and coaches and Nobel Prize winners, too, of slicing through rank and reputation, of turning every encounter into nothing more or less than two human beings talking. Hell, the guy introduced himself to strangers simply as “Pat,” and if they asked what he did before strapping it on for Uncle Sam, he’d say he studied some back at Arizona State and quickly ask about them, never mentioning the summa cum laude or the Pac-10 defensive player of the year award, and certainly not the NFL. And still, something about him made you walk away wanting to learn more, laugh more, run more, give more.

— “Remember His Name

Simply one of the best stories I’ve read in along time, about a player who left the televised faux-battle of the football field to serve his country in a time of war — and whose life ended all-too abruptly, and perhaps wrongly, in a blur of field action. His life, service, and death leaves family, friends, and fans to pick up the pieces and try to find shreds of meaning, of inspiration.

I also just finished reading Tim O’Brien’s epic Vietnam memoir/novel The Things They Carried, and some of his thoughts on war — and the telling of war stories — are instructive in understanding how Pat Tillman’s life, his heroism, could fail to have the Hollywood ending that he seemed to deserve.

A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. …

In a true war story, if there’s a moral at all, it’s like the thread that makes the cloth. You can’t tease it out. You can’t extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there’s nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe “Oh.” …

It comes down to gut instinct. A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe.

And that’s the heart of the Pat Tillman story — that we can believe that a man who had everything in the football world but a championship ring could lay it down and walk away, could become an exemplary soldier in service to his country, and could fall in combat like so many other sons and daughters no less brave or noble.