Mary Tillman says she may never know the entire story surrounding the death of her son
By Eliav Appelbaum
Pat Tillman For Mary Tillman, finding peace in her son's death has been an arduous and mysterious journey, one teeming with lies, bureaucracy and Congressional hearings.
It has been a hard battle, one fought in metaphorical trenches, to understand how and why her son Pat Tillman died in combat in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.
Pat Tillman gave up a career and a $1-million contract in the National Football League to join the U.S. Army Rangers in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
To this day, Mary Tillman doesn't have all the answers concerning the death of the former Arizona Cardinals safety. Writing her book, "Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman," has brought some comfort to the Tillman family.
"I think we've done about all we can; we've pressed this as hard as we could," Tillman said on the phone from her home in San Jose. "I guess we've come to believe that this was an accident with very gross negligence. There is a part of me that wonders that, if this investigation was done properly, could there have been something more nefarious to it?—but we'll never know."
Mary Tillman Mary Tillman will talk about her son and the book at 2 p.m. next Fri., Sept. 26 at the Camarillo Library.
Released April 29, "Boots on the Ground by Dusk" chronicles the family's attempt to understand what happened on the day Pat Tillman died and examines his life away from football and the armed forces.
"I felt the media turned him into a caricature, and part of that was because he played football," said Mary Tillman, who spent 11 years teaching middle school students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. "The (Bush) administration used Pat: They wanted to cover up his death but at the same time use him to rally patriotic feelings and support for the war. I wanted to humanize Pat."
The Tillmans were initially told by the government that Pat Tillman was shot in the head by enemy gunfire. At his memorial service, the story changed to say he died running up a hill to pursue an enemy. About a month later, the family learned that their son was shot three times in the head by his own troops in a friendly fire incident.
Over the years, details have changed, and the truth remains murky. Since Pat Tillman's death, there have been six investigations, several inquiries and two Congressional hearings.
"At every turn, we discovered peculiar nuances in the stories that didn't make any sense," Mary Tillman said. "We've tried to find out the truth. I think (Pat) would be satisfied with our effort.
He would have wanted us to do this, but not beat our heads against the wall."
With the NFL season less than three weeks old, this time of year has, in the past, been emotionally tough on Mary Tillman.
"It's gotten easier," she said. "The first two or three years it was really hard. I couldn't watch football games. I had a hard time watching if a game was on in a restaurant or bar. I don't have the same enthusiasm for the game. My sons (Kevin and Richard) are able to watch and enjoy football."
When asked what advice she'd give to a mother whose son is about to be deployed, she said, "I wouldn't want to frighten them already; they're scared enough (about) their child going off. It's important for parents, wives and husbands to be very vigilant about what's going on. Pay close attention, and don't believe everything that the military tells you."
The San Jose woman plans to speak at four other Southern California libraries this week.
While she continues dealing with the healing process, she will always cherish the memories of her son.
"There's so much about him. I miss his laugh. I miss his wisdom," Mary Tillman said. "Pat was a very caring person, and he just kept growing as a person. Like a lot of young teenage boys, he could be very selfabsorbed and overly macho. As he went through college and started getting older, his sense of self improved, and he just became a gentler, wiser person.
"One of the last things he said to me before he went to Afghanistan was that the military made him a better person. It actually humbled him. . . . I can go on and on about Pat. He was the most serious person I ever knew but also the lightest guy I ever knew. He loved to laugh, and he loved life."