“Thanks Pat. (toasting him with a pint of Guinness) I didn't write shit because I'm not a writer. I'm not just going to sit here and break down on you. But thanks for coming. Pat's a fucking champion and always will be. Just make no mistake, he'd want me to say this: He's not with God. He's fucking dead. He's not religious. So, thanks for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead.”
You’d probably expect that quote to come from some anti-war Cindy Sheehan type. You know, some left wing liberal nutcase ala Michael Moore or somebody else with an axe to grind about the current administration and its conduct of the war.
Instead, it came from Pat Tillman’s youngest brother, Richard Tillman. The occasion was a highly public memorial service in which certain mourners such as Senator John McCain and Maria Shriver had heaped religious platitudes upon the deceased. Maybe it was said out of bitterness since at the time, the occasion of Pat Tillman’s death still hadn’t fully set in. Maybe it was an attempt by Richard Tillman to set the record straight about all the hype and hoopla that surrounded his famous brother’s death and how he lived his life.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said of the government. Pat Tillman deserved much better.
When news first broke about the death of Pat Tillman the country was shocked. After all, this man was a poster boy for the American effort to rid the world of terrorism. This is the man who would forgo a huge contract to play in the NFL for the privilege of serving his country in its time of need. The is the man who would inspire others to follow in his footsteps. This is the man that the generals in the Pentagon and the Department of Defense envisioned as a recruiter’s dream come true.
Pat Tillman would have none of it. He turned down requests for interviews, he refused to appear in recruiting commercials or to have his image displayed on any posters. He just wanted be like the many thousands that came before him, to do his time and serve his country. After his training, he was sent off to Afghanistan.
The first reports of Tillman’s death had him heroically engaging the enemy in a firefight. As it turns out, it was a story worthy of Jessica Lynch type treatment. It turns out, Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire and from recent reports, the Army knew of the circumstances of his death almost immediately. There was only one problem though, they didn’t inform his family or the American public about those circumstances for weeks and weeks. It seems the Army had blown up their own poster boy.
One might be tempted to ask why? Friendly fire during wartime, while not common, can and will occur. Given the confusion on the battlefield, the range of the weapons being used and the fear that must overtake a soldier when he sees his comrades dying all around him, mistakes are bound to happen. Why then, didn’t the Army just come clean?
Pat Tillman was killed in the line of duty on April 22, 2004. The news of the Abu Ghraib Prison abuse scandal would come out less than a week later. Was the Army trying to avoid informing the American public of two embarrassing incidents at the same time?
"'I'm disgusted by things that have happened with the Pentagon since my son's death. I don't trust them one bit.” Mary Tillman, Pat Tillman’s mother
"I can understand why Pat Tillman's family, you know, has got significant emotions. A man they loved and respected was killed while he was serving his country." – George W. Bush
So far, there have been seven separate investigations regarding the circumstances of Mr. Tillman’s death. In the latest one, the Pentagon trotted out former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who while acknowledging that some mistakes were made along the way, continue to deny that there was a cover-up. I think the question boils down to the proverbial “What did you know and when did you know it.”
Why did members of Tillman’s own unit burn his uniform and body armor shortly after they discovered that they were the ones who killed him.
Why is that the general who knew of the circumstances of Tillman’s’ death withheld the information from the family for months. When asked why by investigators why that was, he claimed “ "he had a bad memory, and couldn't recall details of his actions”. He would later claim that same statement or something similar over seventy more times while being questioned.
Family members said that Mr. Tillman kept a daily dairy of his actions and had done so for years. No evidence of the diary has ever been found and the Army claims to know nothing about its existence.
In e-mails and other correspondence, attorneys representing the Army congratulated themselves for delaying the investigations.
That no evidence of enemy fire was ever found at the scene of Tillman’s death nor had any other members of his platoon been hit.
According to reports that eventually surfaced, here’s what really happened:.
Briefly, after a Humvee broke down, the platoon was ordered to split up, with Tillman's half going on ahead to put "boots on the ground" in the little town of Manah. The other half of the platoon followed on the same road, which was not the original plan. Because of the terrain, they lost radio contact. When an explosion went off, they figured they were under attack by Taliban insurgents and fired back. It turned out the two halves of the platoon were firing at one another. After being hit once in the arm, Tillman reportedly got up and started waving his arms screaming “Cease fire, cease fire. Friendlies, cease fire”
He would wind up taking take three more bullets to the forehead..
In closing, I doubt we’ll ever get to the bottom of what really happened that day. That’s a shame, Mr. Tillman deserves better and so does his family. By trying to protect their own interests, the United States Army has done them a disservice that no member of the military, especially one who volunteered out of a sense of patriotism and duty and gave up so much because he believed in a cause, have forever stained his memory.