"With any luck our family would sink quietly into our grief and the whole unsavory episode would be swept under the rug." That, says Kevin Tillman, is what the Army hoped would happen after it belatedly informed the family that his brother Pat had been killed not by the enemy but accidentally by one of his own men. "However, they miscacalculated our family's reaction."
The family has been relentless in demanding answers both to how Pat Tillman was killed -- was it an accident or negligence -- and why the Army took so long to tell them he had fallen to friendly fire. You don't have to buy the family's theory that the Pentagon deliberately concocted a story of heroism in Afghanistan to divert attention from a war gone bad in Iraq to be impressed by what they've accomplished. There has now been a total of five investigations into Tillman's death and four generals face the possibility of disciplinary action. But his mother, Mary, still thinks there's a cover up. "I think these generals were under orders personally by somone higher. I don't think these generals acted on their own. . . That's a smokescreen. These officers are scapegoats." And there is tantalizing evidence that she may be onto something.
An e-mail dated April 28, 2004 -- six days after Tillman died -- says that John Currin, a White House speechwriter, had asked for more information about the former NFL star which the President could use in an upcoming speech. The next day, Maj. Gen. Stan McChrystal, the commander of operations in Afghanistan, sent an "eyes only" message to three senior generals, including John Abizaid, then the overall commander of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, informing them it was "highly possible" Tillman had been killed by friendly fire. According to an investigation by the Pentagon's Inspector General, McChrystal sent that message "so that they could inform the President or the Acting Secretary of the Army, in case they chose to make remarks that might prove embarrassing if the public learned that Corporal Tillman died by frlendly fire." There the paper trail ends -- except that two days later when the President gave that speech he referred to "the loss" of Pat Tillman but made no mention of the still official story that he was killed by enemy fire. Two days after that a nationally televised memorial service was held for Tillman at which he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. Not until more than three weeks after that was the family finally told the truth.
The Army has maintained all along that the delay in telling the family was nothing more than a well intentioned, if misguided, attempt to spare their feelings until all the facts were known. All the Army succeeded in doing was antagonizing the family and convincing them that all the facts are still not known.