Arizona Cardinals Honor Pat Tillman, Veterans

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2006 - The Arizona Cardinals commemorated Veterans Day during yesterday's game by paying tribute to former teammate and fallen soldier Pat Tillman, as well as five Tuskegee Airmen and a Navy Reservist recently returned from duty in the Middle East.

Tillman became the 11th person inducted into the Cardinals' "Ring of Honor" during halftime at the Cardinals-Cowboys game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Tempe, Cardinals officials reported.

The team honored Tillman, who left the team to become an Army Ranger, during a six-minute video tribute that concluded with Tillman's name being unveiled on the Ring of Honor on the east side of the stadium at the 50-yard line.

Fans attending the game got their first look at the new Pat Tillman Memorial, officials said. It includes an 8-foot-tall, 500-pound white bronze sculpture of Tillman and a circular reflection pond on a plaza surrounding the stadium known as the Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza.

The memorial is full of symbolism, officials noted. A 42-foot-long black concrete wall symbolizes Tillman's jersey number at Arizona State University. To the west of the memorial stands a grove of 40 oak trees that symbolize the jersey number Tillman wore as an Arizona Cardinal. The Cardinals retired the number during a halftime ceremony Sept. 19, 2004.

Tillman, a three-year starter for the Cardinals, left the team before the 2002 season to become an Army Ranger. He was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, in a friendly-fire incident.

U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command is conducting an extensive investigation into the incident and is expected to present its findings to the Defense Department inspector general later this month, Army officials said.

Fans at the event said they were happy to see Tillman honored for his service. "I never actually met him, but I watched him, and he is the ultimate hero -- no doubt about it," the Arizona Cardinals Web site quoted Kim Peterson from Scottsdale, Ariz., as saying at the ceremony. "I think it is great what the Cardinals Football Club has done and for him to give up a football career to help serve our country. You can't even put it into words."

In addition to Tillman, the Cardinals honored five Tuskegee Airmen during a pre-game ceremony. Recognized at the event were Col. Dick Toliver, and Lt. Cols. Bob Ashby, Asa Herring, Charles Cooper and Thurston Gaines.

Team members and fans also honored Navy Petty Officer Mark Smith, recently returned from a one-year tour in the U.S. Central Command area of operation. Smith, a sergeant with the Phoenix Police Department, serves with a Naval Reserve Seabee battalion in Texas.

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