Over the years, the U.S. Army has prided itself on learning from its mistakes. To its great detriment, and to the pain it further inflicted on at least one family, it has repeated an unthinkable and unforgivable transgression.
Now the nation and the world knows that Cpl. Pat Tillman didn’t die at the hands of insurgent Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Instead, the former star safety at Arizona State University and former NFL player with the Arizona Cardinals was killed by gunfire from his own Ranger unit by mistake.
Immediately, it now appears, Tillman’s superiors ordered a subterfuge to mask what really happened. Perhaps they wanted their poster boy, complete with the chiseled jaw, who gave up a lucrative life as a professional football player, to be an even larger hero in death.
From there, the masquerade was played out, that Tillman died fighting off the enemy, and not struck by bullets from his own squadmates by accident.
For five weeks, the Tillmans, who had another son in the Army’s elite Ranger regiment, were told something far removed from the truth. Meanwhile, the Army put on an elaborate show to call Tillman’s fate the death of a hero on the battlefield.
This isn’t the first time the Army has tried to rearrange the events on a battlefield to serve some other purpose. But as in so many other high-profile events, the Army brass should have known that eventually the truth would find its way out.
What has now been revealed won’t bring Pat Tillman back, nor should it diminish the sacrifices he made for his family, his comrades and ultimately, his nation and freedom-seeking people everywhere. The Army can’t apologize to the Tillman family for what it has done in the wake of their son’s death.
What the Army can do is swiftly and decisively punish those responsible for the despicable treatment of the Tillmans and the truth. At a time when the Army needs to put its best face forward to continue to enlist soldiers, it has instead lost face with the public.
The Army needs to strip those in command, no matter how high up, of their ranks as it would strip a noncommissioned officer of his stripes for a lesser offense.
It also needs to remind itself that the truth is ultimately the best defense.