November 12, 2010
Not long after 9-11, Pat Tillman, a standout NFL defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, gave up his lucrative career and, along with his younger brother Kevin, enlisted in the Army Rangers. During his second tour of duty, while he was on patrol in a rocky valley in Afghanistan, he was shot to death.
Initially, the Army informed his family that Tillman had died a hero, defending his fellow soldiers against a Taliban ambush. Gradually his mother pieced together the truth from, among other things, inconsistencies in the military’s telling of events, stories from his fellow soldiers, and a large box of redacted documents that she painstakingly restored.
So the brass awarded him the silver heart, portraying him as an all-American boy who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. In other words, they used him to sell the idea of war.
Although the documentary is sketchy on the details, Tillman and his squad were out on patrol when a vehicle broke down. His company received orders not to abandon it. Tillman was part of the forward position after his group split in two. He rushed back when it seemed the others were under attacked. Shots were fired, and someone in the rear patrol blanketed the area with bullets, several of which struck Tillman.
The movie is murky on the specifics of who pulled the trigger, but the soldier who was next to Tillman when he died says the ex-football player couldn’t believe his own comrades were firing on him.
His last words were “I’m Pat f---ing Tillman.” Then a barrage tore his head off.
Although this account of Tillman’s death is haunting, I found myself wishing that the filmmaker had done what writers call a character biography.
The list goes on.