Mary Tillman's Private War
It is one of the defining stories of America's long, heartbreaking war in Afghanistan. Less than a year after 9/11 and shortly after marrying his childhood sweetheart, Pat Tillman, 25, walked away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to join the Army's elite Rangers, along with his younger brother Kevin. "Even though he loved football, Pat didn't want to be part of some superficial game when there were people putting their lives on the line,' says his mother, Mary Tillman, whose family saga is the subject of a riveting new documentary film, The Tillman Story. "I tried talking them out of it, but once I realized that wasn't going to happen it was important that I support them."
During Pat's second tour of duty, in April 2004, Mary received the news all military mothers dread. "I was at home and got a message to call my daughter-in-law, Marie. I had a bad feeling about it," she says. "When I asked her what's going on, she didn't say a word. I asked again, and she was still silent. I got more upset. Then she told me Pat had been killed."
Despite Pat's expressed wish not to have a military funeral, the Army gave him a hero's good-bye, complete with a Silver Star, at a public memorial attended by Army brass and luminaries like Senator John McCain and California First Lady Maria Shriver. The official story was that he died in a firefight with the Taliban as he charged up a hill "without regard for his own safety."