Sunday, October 10, 2010
Recently, I finished listening to the audio book version of Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory--The Odyssey of Pat Tillman." One thing that really stuck with me was how likable Pat Tillman was, at least as presented by Krakauer. Tillman was the antithesis of the typical jock: he had interests outside of sports, he liked to read and write, he was never a skirt chaser, he was honest and loyal, and, apparently, coffee was his only drug of choice. He had a sense of duty and honor not many people have, be it in the NFL or otherwise; unfortunately, these virtues, in a way, hastened his death. I won't go into all of the details of how, as the book explains it better and more succinctly than I could.
The attempted cover-up after Tillman's death, which was the result of friendly fire, is both tragic and sickening. It also merits eternal shame and dishonor on all those involved from the top on down. Those involved are not fit to wear the uniform they serve in.
As to the actual event of Tillman's death, Krakauer explains it in detail. Apparently, a short firefight erupted in a narrow canyon his unit was travelling through. Tillman, who was a ways back of the column, went forward towards the shooting. By the time he got there, the insurgents had fled, but the nerves of the entire unit were on edge after taking fire. He scrambled up one side of the canyon, followed closely by another soldier, and stopped near a large boulder. They were approximately 90-100 yards from the canyon floor. A soldier on the canyon floor saw them and somehow mistook them for insurgents and fired at them. Tillman, apparently dumbstruck that so obvious a mistake could be made at such an easy-to-identify distance, waved his arms to alert the soldier that they were cohorts. This didn't register with the soldier firing, who fired again, this time hitting Tillman three times in the forehead, killing him instantly.
Tillman's body was still warm when the cover-up began. Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother, was also part of the same unit. When he found out his brother had been killed, Kevin, who was farther back in the column than his brother and--thankfully--didn't witness the event, understandably thought it was the insurgents who were responsible and wanted revenge. His superiors, the unit's NCOs and CO, quickly figured out what had happened and did nothing to dissuade Kevin's incorrect assumption. Perhaps that is understandable for unit cohesion in hostile territory, but the lie was allowed to live long after the soldiers returned to safer environs. Indeed, it was perpetuated by those on up the chain of command. What a sad commentary on what is looked upon by many Americans as a noble and honorable profession.
One final thing I'll say about Pat Tillman, and I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but once he was fired upon, how I wish he should have hit the dirt as fast as possible and stayed there. I've no doubt he was exasperated to take fire from one of his own, but until things could be sorted out, the best course of action when taking rounds in your direction, regardless of who they're from, is to make yourself as small a target as possible.