Former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for leading his Army Rangers unit to the rescue of comrades caught in an ambush.
Tillman was shot and killed in Afghanistan while fighting "without regard for his personal safety," the Army said Friday in announcing the award.
The Silver Star, awarded for gallantry on the battlefield, is one of the most distinguished military honors.
On Thursday the Army promoted Tillman from specialist to corporal. He was assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based in Ft. Lewis, Wash.
In announcing the Silver Star award, the Army Special Operations Command provided the most specific description of what happened to Tillman on April 22.
His platoon was split into two sections for what officials called a ground assault convoy. Tillman was leader of the front group.
The trailing group received mortar and small arms fire, and because of the cavernous terrain the group had no room to maneuver out of, in military parlance, the kill zone.
Tillman's group was already safely out of the area, but when the trailing group came under fire he ordered his men to get out of their vehicles and move up a hill toward the enemy.
As Tillman crested the hill he returned fire with his M249 automatic weapon, a lightweight machine gun.
"Through the firing Tillman's voice was heard issuing fire commands to take the fight to the enemy on the dominating high ground," the award announcement said. "Only after his team engaged the well-armed enemy did it appear their fires diminished.
"As a result of his leadership and his team's efforts, the platoon trail section was able to maneuver through the ambush to positions of safety without a single casualty."
The announcement gave no other details of how Tillman was killed.
At least one other soldier in Tillman's unit apparently was wounded.
Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters that he spoke Thursday in Afghanistan with the lieutenant who was Tillman's platoon leader.
"He was still nursing a large number of wounds that he sustained in that firefight where Pat Tillman lost his life," Abizaid said Friday.
Abizaid said he asked the lieutenant about Tillman.
"He said, 'Pat Tillman was a great Ranger and a great soldier. And what more can I say about him?' "
Tillman, 27, walked away from a three-year, $3.6-million contract offer from the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army in 2002.
A public memorial service is scheduled for Monday. The afternoon service will be held in Tillman's hometown of San Jose at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden.