"Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we're not Christians, and the reason that we can't put Pat to rest is because we're not Christians," Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, said in an interview with ESPN.com. Mary Tillman casts the family as spiritual, though she said it does not believe in many of the fundamental aspects of organized religion.
"Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady," she said sarcastically, "But it is because we are not Christians."
After a pause, her voice full with emotion, she added, "Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn't lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble. I mean, he had an ego, but it was a healthy ego. It is like, everything those [people] are, he wasn't."
Though rarely for public consumption, the Tillman family has continued to try to push through layers of Army bureaucracy for answers, about both the death of their son and the appearance that Pat Tillman's Army life, and death, might have been used for political purposes.
Were the Army and/or the White House so desperate for a positive spin that they morphed Tillman into a male version of Jessica Lynch, the Army private from West Virginia who was foisted into the spotlight early in the Iraq War during the march to Baghdad? The Pentagon initially portrayed Lynch as fighting until the last bullet was fired before she was wounded and captured. Only later was it learned that she had been injured when her vehicle crashed and she had been knocked unconscious. In her authorized biography, "I Am a Soldier, Too," she said she never fired a shot.
Tillman's Silver Star suggests the possibility of a similar spin. According to military records, 45 Silver Stars for gallantry have been awarded to soldiers for their heroism during the war in Afghanistan. An Army official told ESPN.com that Tillman's is the only one of those 45 that involved friendly fire. Although involved in the writing of Tillman's Silver Star application, Kauzlarich said the medals are "typically not" awarded in such cases.
"I mean, had the story come out that he had been killed by his own guys, then it probably would have been looked at differently," Kauzlarich said.
Army documents and statements given by witnesses during the Army's investigations indicate top officials already suspected fratricide when Tillman's Silver Star application was crafted. According to the transcript of his statement, Tillman's company commander, Capt. William Saunders acknowledged providing the information needed for Tillman's Silver Star recommendation, stating that before submission, "We became aware that his death was a possible fratricide." During a separate interview with investigators, Saunders said he arriving at the scene of the battle early the following morning -- April 23, 2004 -- and being informed fratricide was suspected.
Though two other Rangers were wounded in the incident, no one else on the battlefield that day was awarded a Silver Star.