Mary Tillman: General Lied About My Son's Death in Afghanistan

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Pat Tillman, soldier killed in Iraq

A photograph of Pat Tillman is displayed on a wooden cross at a roadside memorial that features over 5,000 wooden crosses, which represent U.S. troops that have been killed in Iraq. Credit: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Pat Tillman was an American hero practically made to order.

Eight months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the professional football player rejected a $3.6 million offer and left the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army and fight in Afghanistan.

His story was almost too good to be true.

It ended tragically April 22, 2004, when he was killed in action. Military brass hailed him as a hero cut down by enemy fire. But it turns out that story really was too good to be true. In fact, it was a lie. Tillman and others were killed by their own confused and frightened comrades.

And the government covered that fact up.

Now, the fallen hero's mother, Mary Tillman, writes in the Los Angeles Times that she's not surprised at allegations that say retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was involved in the cover up.

McChrystal was forced to resign recently, after making inappropriate remarks about President Barack Obama as commander in chief to a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine in a story published June 22.

"I feel strangely validated," Mary Tillman writes in the Times. "The runaway general described by journalist Michael Hastings is exactly the arrogant individual I believed him to be."

McChrystal was in charge of Joint Special Operations Command in 2004, when Pat Tillman was killed. Mary Tillman writes she never heard of him until an incriminating memo came to light in 2007.

In the memo dated April 29, 2004, McChrystal warns then-President George W. Bush and high-ranking military officials to avoid making public comments about Pat Tillman's death because it was "highly possible that Corporal Tillman was killed by friendly fire."

McChrystal's memo warns against "unknowing statements by our country's leaders which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Corporal Tillman's death become public."

Mary Tillman is outraged.

"The memo makes it clear there was no intention of telling the truth unless circumstances made it absolutely necessary," she writes.

During a military investigation of Pat Tillman's death, McChrystal testified he withheld saying anything to the family "because we didn't want to give them a half-baked finding."

Mary Tillman doesn't buy it.

"McChrystal says they didn't want to give us a half-baked finding. Yet that is exactly what they did," she writes. "Rather than being told there were questions about Pat's death, we were presented with a contrived story, an absolute lie about how he had been killed by enemy fire."

She adds that her son's autopsy and field hospital report were very suspicious from the start.

"The autopsy gives a description of Pat's body that led us to later question if the autopsy was even his, and the field hospital report contains language that suggests he was alive when he was brought back to the field hospital at Forward Operating Base Salerno," she writes. "Yet soldiers' statements indicated Pat was decapitated by the barrage of bullets, and he was deemed killed in action by the medic on the scene."

These discrepancies raised questions, she adds.

"Even the medical examiner called for a criminal investigation, but the adjutant general prevented it from going forward," she writes. "By covering up the circumstances of Pat's death, McChrystal and the rest of the chain of command may have, knowingly or unknowingly, covered up a crime.

Mary Tillman says McChrystal should have been fired long before the Rolling Stone interview.

"That is why it was so disturbing to us when President Obama instead promoted McChrystal to the position of top commander in Afghanistan last year," she writes. "At the time, I sent the president an e-mail and a letter reminding him of McChrystal's involvement in Pat's cover up. In the letter, I suggested McChrystal be 'scrutinized very carefully' by the Senate Armed Services Committee."

Mary Tillman writes that her pleas fell on deaf ears. And the problem goes well beyond McChrystal, she claims, saying he's just a symptom.

"Over the last five years, the Pentagon and Congress have had numerous opportunities to hold accountable those responsible for the coverup of Pat's death," she writes. "Each time they've failed. The government didn't just lie to us. It lied to a nation."

Related: Little Girl Welcomes Soldier Father Home

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.