In May of 2002, Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman turned down millions in his NFL career and enlisted in the U.S. Army, along with his brother Kevin, in response to the September 11th attacks. As Rangers, both were deployed to Iraq and later to Afghanistan.
On April 21, 2004, Pat's platoon, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, was ordered to conduct clearing operations to search for Taliban fighters in a region of Afghanistan. A Humvee (mounted with a .50-caliber machine gun) was idle. The next day, the Humvee was further disabled; and it was eventually decided that the Humvee would be towed by a local truck driver.
Orders were received from Khost, a tactical operations center about 50 miles away. The commander wanted no more delays and "boots on the ground by dusk." To accomplish this, the platoon were divided into two sections, Serial One and Serial Two; and later the two units were to meet up in the village of Manah.
Pat was in Serial One and Kevin was in Serial Two. The two units were not able to communicate in an area characterized by steep canyons and difficult terrain.
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In a hail of fire, Pat and an Afghan militia soldier frantically waved their arms, yelling "Cease fire! Friendlies!" Pat even threw a smoke grenade to signal he was a fellow soldier. After taking cover behind rocks, Pat assumed he was recognized and that it was safe to emerge, but he was wrong. He was shot in the legs, and then, hit three times in the head. Pat Tillman died. He was only 27 years old.
Was Pat Tillman killed by friendly fire or taken down by the enemy?
Mary Tillman demands answers
"Boots on the Ground By Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman" attempts to answer this question. Mary Tillman, mother of Pat Tillman, pens this book along with Narda Zacchino, a former investigative reporter and editor of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. Mary's emotional and vivid account of her son's death and possible deception by the U.S. Army provoke emotions that most save for the inevitable and the unimaginable. Well, Fratricide and the possible violation of the Geneva Conventions are unimaginable.
Did fellow comrades see the smoke grenade thrown by Pat Tillman or the waving of his arms? After being shot in the legs, why was he then shot again, three times in the head? The Geneva Conventions, four treaties originated in Geneva, Switzerland, safeguard and protect individuals from unfair treatment as non-combatants and prisoners of war.
Pat's body, once full of life, arrives home. His brothers, Kevin and Richard; his widow Marie; his father Patrick and many others mourn his death. But his mother, Mary, emotionless and empty, struggles with the suspect and conflicting stories of fellow comrades, commanders, Colonel Bailey and Colonel Nixon.
With a heavy heart, readers will also question the many accounts of what happened in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Contradictions of that day's events are puzzling and only highlight the inadequacies of the leadership of presumably, well-trained Army Rangers. As Mary searches for answers, her heart searches for solace. She reaches for a cigarette every now and then "to stay sane."
Mary Tillman remembers
Mary, her fingers wrapped tightly around a cup of hot coffee, shares her private moments and joyous memories of her three boys, especially Pat. All three brothers are very close; they are comrades in play and sports; and Pat and Kevin in combat.
"I see my son at nineteen, standing muscled and tan on the front stoop of our house, smiling devilishly, first at me, and then in the direction of the elm twenty feet away," Mary says. "I watch his smile slowly fade as his eyes stare intently as something I cannot see. Suddenly, he pushes off from the stoop and takes a running leap at the tree, planting his right foot about five feet up the trunk ... It was under the umbrella of this big elm that my son played as a child. The house that stands before me, that holds so many memories, is where we lived when he was born ..."
Mary, Marie and numerous friends describe Pat as someone who was outrageously funny, loved a challenge, and excelled in football and academics. He graduated summa cum laude in 3 and a half years with a 3.86 grade point average.
Peering into Mary's soul is difficult at times, but she convinces you that as a mother, it's normal to grieve. It's normal to feel empty and to even feel rage at times. And it's quite appropriate to cry ... for days on end. Life and death, both celebrated simultaneously, elicit both laughter and tears. Readers will be deeply moved by Mary's compelling recollection of her son's life and death.
What I admire most is not just her bravery, but her honesty and diligence. She tells it like it is, unafraid, much like her outspoken son, Pat. Her attempt to uncover the truth about his death prolongs her agony, the agony of not knowing. But most impressive is Mary's ability to write a troubling, but eloquent story, close to her heart, an humanitarian effort to empower mothers.
What went wrong? Lingering questions
- Why were the troops split into two groups?
- Who ordered the separation of the troops?
- Who opposed the separation of the troops?
- Was an order given to have "boots on the ground by dark" or "boots on the ground by dusk"?
- Why was the note written by the village doctor not taken seriously?
- Did fellow comrades see the smoke grenade thrown by Pat Tillman or the waving of his arms?
- Were light conditions good or bad?
- Was one squad out of control?
- Did the soldiers positively identify their target?
- Why was Pat Tillman's uniform missing after his death?
- Were the Geneva Conventions violated?
- Were rules of engagement violated?
At least 432 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as of May 20 due to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department and reported by The Associated Press. Of the 432 service members, 298 were killed by hostile action.