Until I saw this cover of Sports Illustrated I hadn’t paid much attention to Pat Tillman. It’s a great photo—and an even greater story—of both the heroic and horrific kind. Pat Tillman was the NFL player who gave up that career to enlist in the Army in 2002—along with his brother Kevin—as a patriotic response to the 9-11 attacks. He was KIA in Afghanistan in 2004. His story intrigued me.
I’ve heard enough of my Dad’s WWII stories to know that “military intelligence” can be an oxymoron. And from living in the U.S. my whole life, I know that “military code of honor” can be a joke. Unfortunately (tragically and depressingly so) Pat Tillman’s life intersected the dark side of these two concepts.
Pat Tillman did not die in Manah, Afghanistan the way the military told the story the first time. He was shot in the head by American soldiers—not the Taliban.
The military lied in an effort to avert a P.R. disaster—that their most famous soldier was shot and killed by his own men—an elite group of specially-trained Army Rangers no less. This FUBAR would not help the popularity of the war effort (which in April 2004 had taken a turn for the worse). So a cover-up story was concocted to deceive the Tillman family, our nation, and the world.
But the Pat Tillman story goes WAY BEYOND some military officers lying about a screwed-up operation. It is about a pattern of outrageous, dishonorable, and criminal behavior by the executive branch/military complex to achieve some nebulous end and obscure the truth from the American public.
It’s about The Powers That Be saying “Screw you, we do what WE want” to our nation and one family in particular.
A documentary titled The Tillman Story explores the hideous nature of Tillman’s death and subsequent equally hideous cover-up. The film opened today. I had hoped to see it and post my thoughts. But it’s only showing right now in L.A. and NY— and that’s a little far for me to travel. (You’d think that since Pat was born and raised in the San Jose area that the film would be shown here first. Guess not.)
So until I see the film, here are my thoughts on Pat Tillman’s mother’s book: Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman by Mary Tillman (Rodale, Inc. 2008). I LOVED THIS BOOK. “Dannie” (as she is called in the book) tells Pat’s story from birth. She shows us (not tells us) the many sides to her remarkable son: independent, determined, intellectually curious, caring, spirited, loyal, and principled. I loved the stories about Pat as a child, his relationship with his brothers,and his romantic side with Marie.
The book at times is emotionally difficult to read. The scenes where Dannie and later Patrick (Pat’s Dad) find out about his death are heartbreaking. So is the scene with them in the funeral home with Pat’s body.
Likewise, here’s a warning: the amount of disrespect and lies heaped on this family will disgust you.
Dannie Tillman deserves a TOP SPOT in the Ferocious Mother Hall of Fame. She doggedly pursues the truth about what really happened to her son and refuses to be stymied, swayed, or silenced by the Army brass. She has guts, determination, and grace in the face of overwhelming grief. She is a force of nature. I totally loved her.
I also loved the whole Tillman Clan: Kevin and Richard, Pat’s younger brothers; Patrick (the Dad); Marie (the wife);Mike and Rich (the uncles); Alex (the brother-in-law); Peggy and Syd (the neighbors), Michelle (the friend), and the Granny.
All of the eulogies from Pat’s funeral in San Jose are included in the book. (Note: This service was BEFORE the family learned of the real cause of Pat’s death: fratricide.) I enjoyed Maria Shriver’s words of comfort. Even John McCain rose to the occasion. It’s despicable that the Navy Seal who eulogized Pat was given lies by the military to speak.
But it was Richard’s speech that was the most priceless in his expression of brotherly love. Also, the part of the book where his parents realize Richard hasn’t been told about Pat’s death and the Dad has to immediately fly from San Jose to LA and find him before he hears the news on TV is a roller-coaster ride of emotions and suspense.
In the book Dannie also mentioned that her ex-husband Patrick had written a scathing letter to General Gary Jones regarding his ridiculous conclusions about the investigation of Pat’s death. It was this letter that helped spur a Congressional inquiry to investigate further. I wish Dannie had included the letter because it is a literary monument to a father’s rage at a depraved system full of dishonest and self-serving lackeys. (You can read it on the Internet.) It ends with an eloquent “Ef you and yours” statement.
Dannie also included a piece Kevin wrote in 2006 for truthdig.com, titled “Happy Birthday, Pat Tillman.” This was my favorite political commentary in the book. I think this article should be taught in high school civics classes because of its message to beware of the “…incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals…in charge of this country…” and warns to beware of “apathy through active ignorance.” Beautifully said!
Dannie’s book is a shining example of the honor and dignity of one American family and shines a spotlight on the shameful men of the U.S. government/Army ranks, such as Rumsfeld, Meyers, Abazaid, McChrystal, Jones, Hodne, Bailey, Nixon, Sutter, Kensinger, Kauzlarich, Baker, Sayer, Ashpole, and of course, the Shrub, along with the gutless eunuchs of the Democratic congressional leaders (who do nothing) and the heartless profiteers of the Republican congressmen (who don’t give a sh*t). These individuals have no honor.
This book showed me that ONE FAMILY is more important than all those entities put together.
This book showed me that it is the strength of the American family that makes this country strong and great—not its corruptible institutions and the spineless ninnies who run them.
My best to the Tillman family.
P.S. If you happen to need an eccentric Auntie to fill out the ranks in the family tree, I’m your branch!
I finally saw the documentary: The Tillman Story. It’s a riveting film about an amazing person that at times is hard to stomach. Here’s the link: