Live

Watch CBSN Live

'Friendly Fire' Mom Calls For Change

As the Defense Department opens a criminal investigation into the death of NFL star-turned-soldier Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in what has been described as a friendly fire incident, a Canton, Ohio, mother continues to struggle with the friendly fire death of her son.

Peggy Buryj's son, Pfc. Jesse Buryj, was killed in Karbala, Iraq in May 2004.

The circumstances surrounding his death remain so murky, reportsCBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston, Peggy is calling for the creation of an independent panel military families could go to in situations like the one she faces.

"My son took an oath to the United States Army," she tells Pinkston. "He believed in honor, integrity, loyalty, duty. Where was their loyalty to him when they weren't telling his parents and his wife what happened to him?"

Joining the Army was Jesse ever wanted to do, Peggy says, noting that, "He always loved soldiers and war. He always played war. There was always a battle going on in my backyard."

After high school, Jesse went straight to the Army.

A year-and-a-half later, he was at war for real.

Three months after arriving in Iraq, Jesse was killed when a dump truck rammed a checkpoint being guarded by U.S. and Polish troops.

Jesse's widow, Amber Buryj says, "I want him to be remembered as someone who could always make anybody smile, no matter what situation they were in. It didn't matter, no matter what was wrong, he could get you to laugh."

"He was the class clown," Peggy recalled. "Anything for a laugh. …He was a perfect son."

Amber says she was told by the Army that Jesse had died in a "car accident, like a Humvee accident."

Two-and-a-half months after the incident, Pinkston says, the military sent out a death certificate. And, for the first time, Peggy learned that her son wasn't killed by a collision: He was killed by a bullet.

That triggered a long list of questions, and Peggy wasn't satisfied with what the military was telling her.

"I immediately started calling, making phone calls," she recalls. " 'He was shot? Why didn't you tell me he was shot?' "

The military had told Amber that Jesse had been shot, but neither woman was told by whom.

The next jolt came seven months later, in February 2005, from the autopsy report.

It blamed friendly fire.

"Those were the first times we read the words 'friendly fire,' " Peggy notes.

Pinkston says Jesse is among 11 Army soldiers officially listed as killed by friendly fire in Iraq although, the Army concedes, there could be more.

"It was like losing him all over again, burying him all over again," Peggy says.

Then, nearly a year after Jesse's death, in a briefing provided by the military, another surprise: U.S. investigators told Peggy they thought a Polish soldier had fired the fatal shot, which the Poles deny. She's not sure whom to believe, even after the Army gave her a detailed report.

At that point, Peggy says, she felt "that I waited a year to find out they didn't know what happened."

The Army officially blames Jesse's death on *American* friendly fire, despite the report by investigators placing responsibility for the fatal shot on Polish soldiers.

CBS News military analyst, retired Col. Mitch Mitchell says, "There was a big mistake made in this investigation in my view, and that was, we should have done the ballistics testing."

He says the dispute between U.S. and Polish forces complicates the investigation: "I submit to you that this will never be resolved satisfactorily, and all you can do is say there is a disagreement."

Peggy says the system for handling families of war dead needs improvement.

"We need an independent body we could go to." She asserts. "That's the best thing that can happen out of Jesse's death."

His case is now under review.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome browser logo Chrome Safari browser logo Safari Continue