What Really Happened to Pat Tillman?
This is the anniversary of the death of Patrick Tillman, Army Ranger, NFL Football celebrity. He was an up and coming NFL Football star with a $3.6 Million contract. One day, he walked away from that contract and joined the U.S. Army, becoming an elite Ranger, to fight for his country after the 9-11 attacks. On April 22, 2004, he was killed in Afghanistan.
Mary Tillman, Pat’s mother, told CBS 60 Minutes’ Katie Couric that when the casualty officer came and spoke to her, it seemed “contrived.” “Like a movie” she said. They told her that Pat was killed by the enemy as he charged up a hill. It didn’t seem right to her.
So she began her own investigation and spoke to the other rangers who were with him that day. She poured over Army documents and found discrepancies between what the men told her and what was in the documents.
Five weeks after his death, the Army finally confessed that his death was actually from “friendly fire.”
According to the one of the Rangers, the leader made the decision to split the platoon in two after one of the Humvees became disabled.
The first group turned left into the canyon. The other group was supposed to turn right, but the Afghan truck driver towing the disabled Humvee, said the way was “impassable,” so they followed a short distance behind that first group.
The second group began to take heavy fire, so Tillman, an Afghan army officer, and Bryan O’Neal took up a position higher up the hill in order to protect them. It was starting to get dark, and the figures became indistinguishable from enemy fighters.
The leader below mistook Tillman’s group for the enemy and told the Rangers to fire at them. the Afghani officer was killed first, according to witnesses.
Tillman was shot in the chest, and began waving his arms and shouting for the men to stop shooting. He even threw a smoke grenade to try and get them to stop. But they continued, striking him 3 more times…in the head.
“We all feel terrible that we fired into that position. We were engaged in a wrong decision.” Steven Elliott, former Ranger. A man who to this day worries that his was the shot that killed Patrick Tillman.
Then Secretary of the Army told Couric that 7 investigations concluded that there was no “intent to deceive.” But that rings hollow for his mother, who would have liked to have been told the truth up front.
To know that the United States Army lied to the family of a hero – even to altering the words on his Silver Star citation – did not ease her pain.
Was Pat Tillman treated differently because he was a celebrity? His fellow Rangers say yes, that the Army used him to their advantage. When he was killed, it would have been easy to want to cover up what really happened in favor of a fake story.
Eventually, 6 officers and 7 rangers were disciplined for the incident, but the Army never learned who actually fired the fatal shots. Those who fired that day must live with the knowledge of their mistake.
Was Pat Tillman really a hero? Absolutely. Giving up a multi-million dollar career to fight for his country is something extraordinary.
“Somewhere inside we hear a voice. It leads us in the direction of the person we wish to become. But it is up to us whether or not to follow.” Pat Tillman