Judging from the reaction to last week’s column, Pat Tillman still resonates nearly six years after his death. The L.A. Times ran an article, “Remembering Pat Tillman on Veterans Day.” I’m apologizing in advance for temporarily taking “laughing” out of “Laughing Matters” with a little more about Pat.
I had planned to write about three other very special people. One is Sara Bayles, a Santa Monica resident who helps clean up the beach. She started with just a plastic bag that she’d fill with litter. Then she began blogging and others joined her.
When I met Sara one sunny Sunday in October she had an enthusiastic group of young girl environmentalists called “The Peace Troop.” (The Girl Scouts weren’t environmental enough.) Wearing gloves and carrying bags, they were scouring the sand for litter like they were on an Easter egg hunt. To find out more about Sara’s group go to www.thedailyocean.blogspot.com.
Greg Mortenson is a humanitarian and best-selling author with “3 Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time.” In 1992, his sister, Christa, died from a seizure after a lifelong struggle with epilepsy. To honor her memory, Greg tried to climb the world’s second highest peak, K-2 in Pakistan, to leave her necklace at the top.
Greg almost died in his attempt but was saved by Korphe villagers. During his prolonged recovery, he noticed that the tiny village had no school. Or even pencils. Children did math in the dirt using sticks.
Grateful, Greg promised that he’d return and build a school. Surviving a kidnapping and assassination attempts by the Taliban, Greg has established 131 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, educating 58,000 students, 40,000 of which are girls. He’s even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead of 40,000 more troops, I wish Obama could send four more Greg Mortensons. To learn about Greg go to www.ikat.org.
Drew Hill is a former NFL football star. He’s been painting for 35 years and tomorrow, Nov. 14, he has his first formal exhibition. It’s at Susan Weinberg’s “Infinity Studio,” the lone remaining art studio on the Santa Monica boardwalk (1605 Ocean Front Walk, just south of the Santa Monica Pier from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.). There will be live music (pianist Rashid Lanie) and refreshments while Drew signs prints of his brilliant art. For more info go to www.drewhillartist.com.
Like Drew, after college Tillman was drafted very low in the NFL. (And yet both undersized but determined athletes became All-Pro.) After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 Pat walked away from a multi-million dollar contract to join the army. He even got a thank you letter from Donald Rumsfeld.
After a tour in Afghanistan and Iraq (a war he called “imperialistic”) Pat could have left the Army and returned to the NFL. But he told his agent that he had committed for three years and would be keeping his word.
Tillman is a metaphor for America. His courage, intelligence, integrity and desire to do the right thing represent the best of our national character. But what happened to Tillman and his family represents the worst of governmental abuse.
In 2008 Mary Tillman wrote a heartbreaking book about her son’s life and death, “Boots on the Ground by Dusk.” (I reviewed it for the Daily Press.) Last month, famed author Jon Krakauer released “Where Men Win Glory” which sheds even more light on the Pat Tillman case.
Krakauer writes that within 12 hours of Tillman’s death everyone knew it had been friendly fire. After 200 e-mails went in and out of the White House, a false story was created with one purpose: How best could Pat Tillman’s death advance the administration’s agenda?
Why would the Army lie? Simple. The Abu Ghraib story was about to break, the battle at Fallujah was an ongoing disaster, and Bush was up for re-election in six months. (In retrospect, the lies about Pvt. Jessica Lynch were remarkably similar in style to the fabrications about Tillman.)
Mary Tillman said that when the Army first described the details of Pat’s death it sounded “like a Rambo script.” Other families might have accepted the folded flag and the Silver Star and retreated into their grief. But the Tillman’s have fought for the truth for almost six years and will continue.
They’ve also turned tragedy into a positive. The Pat Tillman Foundation provides resources for social action and college scholarships to soldier scholars. To see for yourself, and hopefully participate, go to www.pattillmanfoundation.org.
Veterans Day has come and gone. But for many veterans reality is no holiday. The Veterans Administration estimates there are 200,000 homeless vets and acknowledges that 18 commit suicide daily. I’m not going to comment about the love part, but all is definitely not fair in war.
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox. At least until next Memorial Day.
Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.