The service of Pat Tillman, the NFL player turned U.S. Army Ranger, is continuing years after his death.
Tillman was an instant celebrity when he gave up a multimillion-dollar professional football contract to join the military after the 9/11 attacks. Although the death of every man or woman in the nation's military service is tragic, the nation was particularly moved when Tillman was shot and killed in combat in April 2004.
The loss of such a promising young man was bad news that has continued to get worse.
First, it was revealed - five weeks after his death - that Tillman had been killed by "friendly fire." Until then, the Army claimed he was killed by enemy fire. Pentagon officials described a chaotic scene in which U.S. troops became confused and inadvertently fired on Tillman's company.
Tillman's family, however, continued to be distressed by the lack of information and details they received from military sources. Even as they mourned their son and brother, they pressed their case to learn more about Pat's death.
Now, more tragic news has come to light. Documents turned over to the House Oversight Committee indicate that Army medical examiners had noted the close proximity of three bullet holes in Tillman's forehead. The location indicate the shots were fired at a much closer range than indicated in the original Army report. That raised the suspicion that Tillman's death might not have been an accident.
The criminal investigation conducted by the Pentagon questioned whether Tillman was disliked by his men or comrades and whether anyone had reason to deliberately kill him. The military probe concluded that Tillman's death was a tragic friendly-fire accident, but the most recent information certainly raises doubt about that determination.
Documents included e-mails in which Army attorneys congratulated one another for keeping criminal investigators at bay. A three-star general, who has since retired, told investigators about 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn't recall any details of the incident. It also has come to light that U.S. Army snipers were in the convoy that fired on Tillman and his comrades and soldiers at the scene were ordered not to tell the truth about the death.
Is it any wonder that Tillman's family still doubts it is getting a full and truthful accounting of the events surrounding his death?
Tragic things happen in war, but to cover up and lie about those events compounds the tragedy as well as undermining Americans' confidence in their military leadership. The House Oversight Committee is scheduled to continue its hearings Wednesday on what senior Defense Department officials knew about Tillman's death. Witnesses who have been invited to testify include former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; and retired Gen. John Abizaid, former commander of the U.S. Central Command.
It certainly seems that these men should be able to shed some light on the Tillman case and the investigation that followed. Their willingness to share that information could go a long way toward regaining the trust of the American public and the Tillman family.