This week I had planned on writing about the Clinton-Bush (43) debates to be held in February in New York and Los Angeles. Then I watched a compelling segment on “Meet the Press.” Afterward, I couldn’t bring myself to write about two highly flawed ex-presidents, each probably getting $100,000 for two hours work. (That’s almost A-Rod money.)
The segment involved the controversial death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. Pat was a long-haired “surfer/intellectual” who graduated from Arizona State with a 3.8 GPA and read Emerson and Thoreau. After college he became an All-Pro football player for the Arizona Cardinals.
Following 9/11, Pat wanted to do something about those who were responsible. His grandfather and great uncle fought in WWII (uncle awarded a Silver Star). Maybe bravery was in Pat’s DNA. Recently married, he turned down a $3.6 million football contract to join the Army.
Mary, Pat’s divorced mother, a teacher, pleaded with him to reconsider. He responded, “How can I not help when it’s my time to serve?”
In May of 2002, Pat enlisted as did his brother, Kevin, who gave up a professional baseball career. Both became elite Army Rangers. But then one day Mary got a phone call from a reporter seeking a comment about Pat. Troubled, she hurriedly called Pat’s wife, Marie, and received the devastating news.
The official account of Pat’s death was that, while protecting his fellow GIs, he rushed a hill held by the enemy. He was so famous that his funeral was broadcast live on ESPN. But the Army’s story was a lie. Pat hadn’t been killed by the enemy, but by friendly fire. And worse, the many high-ranking military officials attending the funeral knew it.
In five-and-a-half years, two Congressional hearings, and seven investigations revealed many disturbing facts: Pat’s medical chart was falsified, his uniform was burned, his body armor was destroyed, and his diary disappeared. But, it seemed the harder the Tillman family fought for answers (Pat’s father is a lawyer) the more they were stonewalled. On this past Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” I was stunned to learn something new, at least for me.
The general in Afghanistan in charge of special operations signed a letter sent to the secretary of the Army recommending that Pat receive the Silver Star. But, inexplicably, there was no mention of friendly fire. The letter was a lie. That general was Stanley A. McChrystal, the current commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan who recently requested that President Obama send additional 40,000 troops.
As I usually write humor (or try) I’ve occasionally thought the subject of a column ought to be my idea for a new reality TV show for Washington, D.C., “Who Can Keep the Straightest Face?” Imagine the political version of “American Idol.”
Anyone who’s ever seen the charismatic Gen. McChrystal on “60 Minutes,” or any other of his television interviews, would have to vote for him. I’d always held him in high esteem, that is, until this past “Meet the Press” when I heard McChrystal’s June 3 explanation for that letter about Pat. He was testifying before Congress at his confirmation hearing.
With the straightest of faces, McChrystal said that he “hadn’t carefully read the letter.” (Say, what?) The most famous soldier in the entire military dies and the commanding general didn’t carefully review the letter recommending him for a Silver Star? The notion is ludicrous. (We’d have to believe that McChrystal didn’t know the difference between enemy fire and friendly fire.) He did acknowledge that were it today he’d have “handled it differently.” I bet.
There are still so many unanswered questions. Who first fabricated the enemy fire story? Who authorized the funeral deceit? Who got punished, demoted or court martialed? Who went to jail? (To the last four, basically nobody.)
Friendly fire deaths are a tragic reality in war. Falsifying a homicide investigation of a member of the armed services is not only a serious crime, it’s unconscionable.
In 2007, Pete Geren, acting secretary of the Army said, “We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all the families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can.”
As I’ve written before, probably too often for most, where is the public outrage?
Soon President Obama will decide about increasing our troops in Afghanistan (a country that hasn’t been successfully occupied since the third century). I hope I’m wrong, but given the Tillman case, can we really trust McChrystal? And when soldiers die, what guaranty is there that the Army will tell the truth to grieving families?
With those cheery thoughts, maybe I should have written about the Clinton-Bush debates. Although personally, I’d rather see them in a steel cage match.
To learn more about Pat Tillman, go to www.pattillmanfoundation.org. Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com