What If Every Soldier Was Pat Tillman?

by Beverly Darling


August 3, 2007

mean no disrespect to the Tillman family, (in fact I admire their courage and strength in a time of pain and grief to ask questions and pursue an investigation concerning the death of their son and brother-Army Ranger CPL Pat Tillman), but I sometimes wonder, ‘What if every soldier fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was Pat Tillman?’

Most people are familiar with the American professional football player, Pat Tillman, who left his professional NFL sports career to join the U.S. Army after the attacks on 9-11. In 2004 while serving in Afghanistan, it was initially reported that he was killed in action by hostile enemy fire and leading a counterattack against the Taliban.

Months later the Pentagon notified the family that he had died as a result of friendly-fire. Some assumed the Pentagon delayed this disclosure in order to protect their image and enhance the war effort. After all, the U.S. Military was in the midst of their own battle in trying to spin the Iraqi Abu Graib Torture Scandal, the human rights violations at GITMO and their inability in capturing Osama bin Laden .

Along with the Pentagon and mainstream media, even President Bush mentioned Pat Tillman’s death and sacrifice in order to gain support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At a correspondent’s dinner Bush said, ‘This young man saw the images of September the 11th, and seeing that evil, he felt called to defend America.’

The Tillman family, a Congressional Hearing and soldiers who were there at the time of Pat Tillman’s death exposed several U.S. high ranking officials that ordered soldiers to be quiet about the friendly-fire incident, falsified the autopsy reports, crossed out certain medical evidence, and then congratulated themselves for covering-up the truth via emails.

Spc. Bryan O’Neal, the last soldier to see Pat Tillman alive and who wanted to tell his brother Kevin Tillman what had happened but was threatened not to do so, told the Associated Press that as bullets were flying overhead he started to pray to himself. Pat Tillman asked O’Neal why he was praying and mentioned that ‘God could not help them now.’

O’Neal believes that Pat Tillman’s intent was to put his mind ‘straight about what was going on at the moment.’ Pat Tillman then said, ‘I’ve got an idea to help get us out of this.’ He then threw a smoke grenade to identify themselves to U.S. soldiers who were firing at them and began waving his arms yelling ‘Cease fire!’ He yelled this again and again when he was killed, said O’Neal.

Pat Tillman’s final words, his death and O’Neal’s testimony is very revealing about the heat of battle and the final moments of a soldier. Most soldiers are just trying to survive, protect their fellow troops and complete their mission. Quite often one prays and wrestles with faith and belief in God, especially when staring into death.

In fact, scholars and historians have collected from diaries, letters and testimonies the last words and thoughts of soldiers dying in battles. Most are concerned with their family and loved ones while others have gone to great length in cursing presidents and their leaders for placing them in misguided wars.

If thousands of U.S. soldiers who have died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan received the same exposure as Pat Tillman, I am sure there would be more questions and doubts raised about the current wars in the Middle East. If the stories of the 116 U.S. troops in Iraq that died from self-inflicted wounds (along with many more being investigated), were aired in the media, how would this affect the continued occupation of Iraq?

What if Americans were exposed to the hundreds of Afghan-Iraqi war veterans who have returned home and committed suicide or crimes against others, while suffering from the emotional wounds of war? What if the press reported on why returning veterans, who have tried to seek care for their emotional wounds, were placed on a waiting list and then killed themselves out of desperation?

Kevin Tillman, Pat Tillman’s brother, recently said that the Pentagon released a ‘manufactured narrative’ and ‘calculated lies’ about how Pat Tillman died. It makes one wonder if the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was also scripted and contrived? This is how Fratricide starts-with architects of war who are oblivious to international politics and prone to violence.

It is also fed by a press that tragically glorifies and sanctifies death in combat at the expense of what really happens in the mind of a soldier. Yet, it does not take away from the motives and bravery of those who die in battle. Aristotle once wrote that ‘courage’ is the most important of all virtues, because without it one cannot practice any other virtue.

Gandhi recognized this and even admired the ‘acts’ of valor and ‘sacrifice’ in war, but not war itself! Martin Luther King, Jr. said ‘a man is not fit to live if he is not willing to die for something.’ In observing the inaction and complacency of our nation, whether pro-war, pro-peace or moderate, perhaps a better title for this article would have been: ‘If every president, vice-president, congress person, and American was Pat Tillman.’

Beverly Darling - beverly@wn.com

(Beverly Darling received her Masters in Theology and her Bachelors in History and Philosophy. She currently teaches U.S. and World History and works with at-risk youth. Beverly also served in a Guatemala Refugee Camp and has traveled throughout Mexico, Panama and Canada. For several years she ministered to the urban poor and rural populations of the U.S. She was also involved in the U.S. invasion of Panama and activated for Gulf War One.)