Mary Tillman was initially hesitant about writing a book chronicling the story of her son Pat, a professional football player turned U.S. Army Ranger who was killed while fighting in the war on terror in Afghanistan.
Her family was originally led to believe that Pat Tillman was killed at the hands of the enemy, meeting a courageous death while charging up a hill during an ambush in a canyon. Tillman, who enlisted in the military in response to the attacks of September 11th, was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery.
It wasn’t until more than a month after the 27-year-old soldier’s death on April 22nd, 2004, that the Tillman family learned from military officials that Pat was in fact killed by friendly fire at the hands of fellow soldiers. Upon learning the actual fate of the fallen soldier, the Tillman family sought answers and requested an investigation.
In the years since Pat’s death, six investigations were initiated and two Congressional hearings have been held, but the family says the actual circumstances remain unclear.
Mary Tillman spearheaded the effort to learn more and after various newspaper articles attempted to address the situation, she said she finally decided to tell about the family’s fight for the truth and to portray the real Pat Tillman in a book.
The book, Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman, written by Mary Tillman with journalist Narda Zacchino and published earlier this year, is a chronicle of the effort to learn the true circumstances of Pat Tillman’s death.
“People were having a hard time piecing it all together because the information was being given out in such a fragmented manner,” Tillman said of stories on the case. “I decided that the only way to put [the story] out there and to have it be comprehensive was to write a book.”
Tillman plans to discuss her book during a special author event at the Santa Monica Public Library Tuesday, September 23rd. The free ticketed event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the library’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium, 601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica.
Tickets will be distributed one hour prior to the event and guests must be on hand to receive an auditorium ticket. No reserved seating is available and seating is first come, first served. Information, (310) 458-8600, or www.sm pl.org/.
While Tillman noted that she was initially against the idea of writing a book, she said it was Zacchino, a senior editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, who convinced her that the story needed to be told.
In the book, Tillman discusses not only the family’s quest to find answers, but she tells more about the person her son really was, not just the “character” many perceived him to be.
“I wanted to present Pat in a much more human way,” said Tillman, who has two other sons, Richard and Kevin, who served on the same mission as Pat. “I wanted to depict him as a real person who makes mistakes but also tries to improve himself.”
Tillman tells about her son as a young boy and how he went on to become an NFL player with the Arizona Cardinals and eventually a soldier. She called Pat a “very inquisitive person,” one who had a strong work ethic and cared about other people and his friends.
“He was a very compassionate person and he was also very tough,” she said.
When Pat gave up his NFL career in order to serve his country, he called it a “very humbling experience,” Mary Tillman recalls.
Throughout the rest of the book, as she talks about the inquiry into Pat’s death and alteration of stories by military officials about how he was actually killed, feelings of outrage are expressed in discovering what the family believes to be a cover-up.
The soldier’s mother suspects that government and military officials concocted the story of the high-profile soldier’s brave death while charging the enemy to distract from negative war news such as torture reports at the Abu Ghraib prison and high U.S. casualties that month.
“I think they told [the story] because it was not to their advantage to tell the truth in their mind,” she said. “In their mind it was important to establish some type of glorious story.”
Tillman also believes that officials did not initially intend to come forward with the actual circumstance but only told the family when they were “forced” to by the coroner, who refused to sign the autopsy report. The incident led Tillman to believe that officials higher up than the regiment were involved in covering up the details.
Four years after her son’s death, Tillman says the family likely still doesn’t know the absolute truth regarding Pat’s death. While Tillman would like to believe they will have the truth one day, she is not sure that day will come.
As for having those responsible face consequences, she says the soldiers who ultimately killed Pat were young and have probably moved on, but “the leadership should definitely be held accountable.”
She has said in various television interviews that the story of Pat Tillman’s death was not only a lie to her family, but a “lie to the country.”
“I think people need to pay close attention to what their leadership is doing and don’t take it at face value,” she said.
Tillman notes that her family’s quest for truth has taken a toll on them and she feels it will soon be time to lay the story to rest. But while the family is prepared to move on, Tillman says she will always be open to learning any new evidence that may surface in the case.
By finally putting hers and Pat’s story into a book, Tillman is hoping that it may help influence other families facing similar challenges to seek answers.
“This may help motivate them to pursue questions that they have,” Tillman said of the book. “I think it’s beneficial to people to have them better appreciate what it’s like to have someone go off to a war situation and it gives them a better appreciation of the loss.”