By Freedom Newspapers
Friendly fire killed Pat Tillman almost three years ago in Afghanistan. But his death continues to haunt us. Maybe it’s because his sacrifice seems so supreme: relinquishing the ease and wealth of life as a respected NFL football player for the brutality and danger of fighting on the front lines.
It’s a heroic story, and we had some closure when it was capped with a heroic account of how he died; the Army Ranger specialist who led his troops up a hill under fire from Taliban guerillas.
That account held up long enough for the military to present Tillman with a Silver Star at his memorial service, but a month later, the tragic truth began to emerge: He was shot several times by his fellow Rangers after their “Black Sheep” platoon was ordered to split up.
Clearly, key Army officials who told the original story of Tillman’s death wanted to add to the mystique and respect for the Rangers as an elite combat unit. Instead, the exposure of a huge lie has again eroded the public’s trust in our military leaders.
Since then, the Army has conducted five investigations into Tillman’s death and the missteps around the disclosure of its details. On Monday, the Army announced it will hold nine officers accountable for withholding information but did not find evidence of criminal malfeasance on the part of his fellow soldiers or a broad-based Pentagon cover up.
Tillman’s family is not satisfied and is calling for a congressional inquiry into the matter. A lot of other people are frustrated as well, but for a variety of reasons.
Some believe, like his parents, that the military is still protecting officials and former officials, including ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and, ultimately, President Bush from taking due responsibility for yet another deception in a war that’s seen too many of them.
Others believe the military has said all that needs to be said about a terrible mistake and the Army’s failure to deal with it properly, and we should turn all of our attention to the future of the Middle East.
But what the Army unquestionably owes to the memory of this young man, who towers in our consciousness but was only 27 when he died, is a full recognition of the truth, however painful that might be. There must be a complete explanation of why Tillman’s family was not told that friendly fire was at least a possible factor in his death, as officials are required to do under military regulations.
Our image of Tillman’s service and sacrifices never should have been tainted by doubt about the Army’s commitment to our soldiers and the families who stand behind them. But Tillman is still a hero whose story inspires even those who disagree with the path of American military policy since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. An honest accounting for what happened to Tillman could help to reunify a country that has been badly divided by this war on terror.