Not only had I closely followed "The Tillman Files" but many interviews of Mary earlier in the past year, most notably in my opinion, the ones by Emily Wilson of Alternet and last year, Keith Olbermann's spectacular interview which I had watched on March 28, 2007. Now holding Mary's book in my hand, I thought there might not be much more to say about it, so I contacted her to see if I might interview her not specifically about the book but about how she's coping these days and the awarenesses she's come to.
True to the mother's loyalty that exudes from every paragraph of her book, Mary Tillman does not want the focus to be on her. She's tired of being in the media limelight and simply wants the world to know Pat's story-who he was and how he and his family were betrayed. So after completing Mary's book, I was drawn to focus on her process of discovering the truth about Pat's death and the meaning of her discovery for all of us.
Mary Tillman was a school teacher at the time of Pat's death, and like most working Americans, she was very busy and had little time to research the dark side of the United States government. Nor was she inclined to do so with two sons enlisting in the Army shortly after 9/11. As is the case with many individuals who begin digging deeper, it wasn't until a tragedy erupted in her life that she embarked on her personal mission to examine the innumerable layers of the system in which she grew up and in which she previously took pride.
Boots On The Ground By Dusk is the saga of Mary's journey to the truth-an account of the glaring inconsistencies presented to the Tillman family about Pat's death in tandem with the endless changing of stories and cover-your-ass behavior exhibited by the Army. No intelligent human being could blithely accept such discrepancies, and Mary Tillman is nothing if not intelligent. She has refined the process of researching, questioning, fact-checking, and cross-referencing to an art form. She had to-for her own sanity and to honor her two soldier sons. All of the facts are there in her book, as they are in detail in "The Tillman Files." A litany of "why" questions occupies Pages 227-229 of the book and reveals Mary's thought process as she grapples with glaring government contradictions. As I read it I kept mentally shouting, "Keep digging Mary, keep digging!" And so she did.
At one point she has a conversation with Dr. Justin Frank, author of Bush On The Couch, a brilliant psychological analysis of George Bush, Jr.:
"Hello, Dr. Frank. I'm Mary Tillman. I don't want to waste your time. I'm calling to ask you a question. Do you think it's possible that this administration orchestrated my son's death?"
"Sad to say, yes."
Mary states, "I'm positively stunned by his response. I thought he would gently tell me that he doesn't believe the administration is very honorable, but it would never do something so heinous as to have a soldier killed."
"You believe they killed him?" Mary numbly asks.
"I think it's possible. Mrs. Tillman, I'm a psychiatrist. It would be unethical and irresponsible of me to tell a grieving mother to pursue such a thing if I didn't think it was possible."
Mary has come to believe that Pat's death was orchestrated as a public relations strategy to gain support for the Iraq War in 2004 around the time of the Fallujah carnage and as the war was becoming increasingly unpopular in the United States. Shortly after Pat had enlisted, he received a letter from Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld, thanking him for enlisting and leaving the NFL to serve his country. Moreover, Mary cites a memo from Rumsfeld, to then-Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, "indicating that Pat was a very special young man. The language Rumsfeld used was that Pat was ‘world class' and that they should keep an eye on him." Mary states, "I'm not sure what that meant, but writing something like that, writing a letter to Pat, obviously he's going to be concerned when he's killed. He's going to want to know what happened." Thus Rumsfeld's denial of a coverup of Pat's death is, to say the least, extremely suspicious.
Dazzling headlines like "Football superstar makes the supreme sacrifice for his country" could only bolster the Pentagon's cause. Might it not make the war more palatable? Might it not inspire more young people to enlist?
At the time of her conversation with Justin Frank, Mary's focus is entirely on the death of her son, but not being Mary and not having lost a son to a government public relations campaign myself, I'm well aware that as heinous as it is to "have a soldier killed", it is even more heinous to have 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001, and that is exactly what happened, a New Pearl Harbor, that motivated Pat Tillman, his brother, and thousands more men and women to commit themselves to military service to "defend" their country. "I'm saddened," Mary says, "by how the government has betrayed not only Pat, but also the American public." (328)
As is always the case when people begin digging more deeply for the truth, Mary discovered an epidemic of anomalies among other military families who related their stories to her-stories of lies, coverups, and ghastly betrayal. Standing beside the Tillman family was Stan Goff, co-author of "The Tillman Files", not merely motivated by the desire to complete his investigative report, but by his own history as a Vietnam warrior and long-time outspoken critic of American imperialism. Stan, whose son is serving in Iraq, has worked tirelessly to support other military families and resist the war machine. The Tillman family desperately needed the support they got from Stan and many others because as Mary writes, "It's consuming and emotionally draining but very revealing. It takes weeks. There are days I become very angry that my family and I have to do this, just to get the truth that should have been forthcoming from the moment Pat died." (307)
Earlier this month (July 15), the Associated Press released "Probe Of Tillman Misinformation Goes Nowhere" which stated that "A ‘striking lack of recollection' by White House and military officials has prevented congressional investigators from determining who was responsible for misinformation spread after the friendly-fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in 2004, a House committee said Monday." In her book, Mary Tillman recounts in detail Congressman Henry Waxman's probe of Pat's death, but this most recent AP story relates that "The panel has failed....It received a flurry of White House e-mails but no documents about friendly fire. It interviewed several top White House officials: ‘Not a single one could recall when he learned about the fratricide or what he did in response'."