Mary Tillman's Private War
It turned out to be a sham. Five weeks later, after several internal investigations, the Army admitted Pat did not go down in a blaze of glory but was "probably" killed by friendly fire. "I didn't quite believe the original story to begin with," Mary says now. "Not that Pat wasn't terribly heroic. He was. But it was a little too pretty -- like a movie. Pat was the highest-profile soldier they had," she adds. "They wanted to rally support -- and make people angry at the enemy."
But the Army's new story also raised questions. How did the friendly fire happen? Why wasn't there a criminal investigation immediately after the incident? Mary Tillman went on to spend the next four years poring over thousands of military documents for clues. She later chronicled her investigation in her 2008 memoir, Boots on the Ground by Dusk.
Working day and night ("I didn't sleep much," she says) in the Northern California cottage where she raised Pat and his two younger brothers (Richard is the youngest), she did not relent until she got answers. Even though parts of those military files were blacked out, she pieced together what she considers to be evidence of a cover-up. She says Pat's body armor, uniform and military journal had been burned, in breach of protocol, in a barrel on his Army base in the middle of the night. According to Mary, documents revealed questionable behavior on the part of the platoon soldiers in Pat's unit. The more she discovered, the more questions Mary had. Why had soldiers fired on her son when they'd allegedly seen arms waving, another flagrant violation of Army rules? Why did a field hospital report say Pat was transferred to an ICU for CPR when, in fact, he had been shot in the head and died instantly? Such details were "chilling and horrifying," Mary says, but what drove her was knowing that Pat himself would have "busted down doors to get the truth" had something like this happened to another family member. "He wouldn't have stood for it," she says.