Mary Tillman's Private War

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Getting Answers

Although Mary logged the hours, it was an angry letter to military investigators from her ex-husband, Patrick Tillman Sr., a San Jose, California, attorney, that eventually led to a Congressional hearing. That April 2007 inquiry -- during which both Mary and her son Kevin, who was discharged a year after Pat's death, testified -- accused the military of smoke-screening. It led to a second Congressional hearing, four months later, that focused on an internal memo from Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of a Special Operations task force in Afghanistan. In a message to other high-ranking military personnel written days after Pat's death, McChrystal reportedly warned, "It might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Corporal Tillman's death become public." But in dramatic testimony shown in the documentary, an all-star panel of generals denied any part in a cover-up. Most couldn't recall ever receiving McChrystal's memo. Instead, the blame was put mostly on Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, a three-star general, by then retired, who led the Army's special operations forces after 9/11. "As I sat in that second hearing," Mary says, "I went from feeling angry to just numb resignation that nothing more was going to be done. No one was going to hold anyone accountable for their actions."

Mary says she is done pressing for answers. "Pat would not have wanted us to spend our lives doing this," she says. For the past year she has been a grief counselor at a Catholic cemetery and she is in touch with other military mothers whose children have died. "You realize everybody has their tragedies and you're not alone," she says.

"There are still times, of course, I am very sad and it hits me just like it did the first time I heard the news," she says. "But I'm comforted having a sense of who Pat was. He's still vivid in my mind. When I talk about him, it's like he's still around. He makes me appreciate life."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2010.


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