BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

What you are allowed to think and what you do think are two different things, aren't they? That's another way of saying that this forum may be NSFW, if your boss is a Republican. A liberal won't fire you for it, but they'll laugh at you in the break room and you may not get promoted. Unless you're an engineer, of course, in which your obsession with facing reality is not actually a career-disabling disability.

BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:01 pm

BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN
by Mary Tillman with Narda Zacchino
© 2008 by by Mary Tillman with Narda Zacchino
Front cover photo by Will Ryan
Back cover photo courtesy of the Tillman Family

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Table of Contents:

• Inside Front Cover
• Chapter 1
• Chapter 2
• Chapter 3
• Chapter 4
• Chapter 5
• Chapter 6
• Chapter 7
• Chapter 8
• Chapter 9
• Chapter 10
• Chapter 11
• Chapter 12
• Chapter 13
• Chapter 14
• Chapter 15
• Acknowledgments
• Sources & Credits
• Index
• Photos

"Here is the [steak] dinner but we're giving it to you on a, you know, garbage can cover. You know, you got it, you work it." -- General Howard Yellen

***

I'm also angry that the Army hasn't provided Marie with Pat's autopsy report. At lunchtime I call Senator John McCain.... I ask him if we are being unrealistic to expect Pat's autopsy after five months. He tells me we should have it by now and indicates he will make sure it's sent to us....

The next day ... I see an envelope from Fed Ex. The envelope was sent from Rockville, Maryland; it's Pat's autopsy report.....

I place a call to Commander Craig Mallak, Armed Forces medical examiner at Rockville, Maryland. Commander Mallak explains that he didn't perform Pat's autopsy; a Dr. James Caruso did. He says Dr. Caruso is currently in Iraq, but he tells me he is quite familiar with Pat's case. I ask Dr. Mallak why Pat would measure two inches taller when he was missing so much of his head. He tells me that the measurements aren't very exact. He says he may have been measured with his toes pointed.....I tell him Pat's wedding band was platinum, yet the report says the ring was gold. Mallak tells me the ring was described from a photograph and that the lighting in the room made the ring appear gold....[I asked] why aren't descriptions written down while looking at the body? It makes no sense to describe details from a photograph...[Mallak said] Yes, ma'am....I ask him why none of Pat's distinguishing features were documented.... [Mallak said] they don't do internal examinations...[I asked] why would Pat have been defibrillated? ...[Mallak said] we normally don't fault someone for trying to save someone's life.... [I asked] why is Pat's autopsy dated July 22, nearly three months after the autopsy was performed?... [Mallak said] Ma'am, Dr. Caruso and I didn't believe the information we read on the casualty report. Enemy rounds don't cause the type of wounds your son had. Dr. Caruso refused to sign the autopsy report....

The information I just learned from Dr. Mallak makes me more fearful and suspicious that Pat may have been killed intentionally. I say very little about my suspicions to anyone other than my closest friends and family because I know people won't understand ... conspiracy theories.

***

"If that was an unofficial visit, why was he wearing his uniform? I think it's strange."

"I'll tell you something more strange," Richard says, lifting his face as he blows cigarette smoke out the corner of his mouth. "After listening to this bullshit at Dad's, I said to [Col Jeffrey] Bailey on the way here, 'I don't care what anyone says, I think my brother was fucking murdered.'''

Kevin looks at Richard and asks apprehensively, "What did he say?"

Our eyes shift back and forth, ready to weigh each other's reactions. "He said, 'You may be right.'''

***

Mike tells me he has read a book called Bush on the Couch, by Dr. Justin A. Frank. He tells me Dr. Frank is a psychiatrist who lives and works in Georgetown. He has done a lot of research on the president and has observed him from afar. The book states that Bush doesn't admire or respect the soldiers; on the contrary, he resents them. They are true warriors; Bush can only pretend. Mike brings the book to my house, and I read all night. In the morning before leaving for work, I call information and get Dr. Frank's number at George Washington University Medical School. I leave a message telling him my name and that my son was killed in Afghanistan in April. I let him know I want to speak to him and that I will be home by four p.m. Pacific time, then I leave my number. When I return home from work, I have a message from Dr. Frank. He tells me he knows who I am, and he will stay in his office until I return home to call him. Immediately, I dial the number, and he answers right away. I waste no time getting to the point.

"Hello, Dr. Frank. I'm Mary Tillman. I don't want to waste your time. I'm calling to ask you a question. Do you think it's possible that this administration orchestrated my son's death?"

"Sad to say, yes."

I'm positively stunned by his response. I thought he would gently tell me that he doesn't believe the administration is very honorable, but it would never do something so heinous as to have a soldier killed. "You believe they killed him?" I ask numbly.

"I think it's possible. Mrs. Tillman, I'm a psychiatrist. It would be unethical and irresponsible for me to tell a grieving mother to pursue such a thing if I didn't think it was possible."

***

[Private Bryan O'Neal] Not long after did a friendly cargo/GMV come down the road toward our direction. When they made eye contact with us, they opened fire with small arms. They rolled through very quickly. After they came, a GMV with a .50-cal rolled into our sight and started to unload on top of us. They would work in bursts, .50-cal for 10-15 seconds, 240B 10-15 seconds (back and forth) for a few minutes. SPC Tillman and I were yelling stop ... stop ... friendlies ... friendlies ... cease fire!" But they couldn't hear us. Tillman came up with the idea to let a smoke grenade go. This stopped the friendly contact for a few moments and that's when I realized that the AMF soldier was dead. At this time, the GMV rolled into a better position to fire on us. We thought the battle was over so we were relieved, getting up stretching out and talking with one another when I heard some 5.56 rounds coming from the GMV. They started firing again. After only a few 5.56 rounds the .50 cal started fire again. That's when I hit the deck and started praying. SPC Tillman at this time was hit with some small arms fire. I know this because I could hear the pain in his voice as he called out "cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat fucking Tillman damn it." He said this over and over until he stopped. Not long after the firing stopped the GMV moved out. I was lying next to the original rock I used for cover when I heard what sounded like water pouring down ... I then looked over at my side to see a river of blood coming down [from] where he was. I had blood all over my shoulder from him and when I looked at him, I saw his head was gone.

***

SCOTT: I saw this original in the three-ring binder when I came back from Afghanistan. And now apparently we can't find it. And so this is the only one that's out there, unless you have a copy.... Again sir, a copy of my recommendations [was] submitted along with my report. But ...
Sir, my original recommendation or report that I submitted to regiment headquarters, one of my recommendations that is not on [this] draft was [that] I recommended that certain leaders be investigated if this investigation continued because I felt that there was some stuff negligent on their part ... I don't know if it was appropriate to do that because some of the persons that I interviewed were of the same rank and of higher rank than I. But that's what I submitted to -- that's what I wrote on my final report was that these persons or persons that I listed, certain persons be investigated because of what I thought was some gross negligence.
JONES: Do you remember specifically who that was?
SCOTT: Staff Sergeant Baker was one of the individuals.
JONES: And you said people of equal or higher rank to you?
SCOTT: I interviewed [CFT commander] at the time, sir, and then Captain [William] Saunders. I also interviewed the ... Executive Officer at the time.
JONES: That was Captain [Kirby] Dennis?
SCOTT: Yes, sir.
LT. COL. MICHAEL HARGIS: Can we take a break here, sir?
JONES: [To Scott] We're going to take about a two-minute break here. Could you step out for a minute?
SCOTT: Yes, sir.

[Break over]
JONES: I want to remind you that you're still under oath. One question I have is, Captain, is that you stated that, in your investigation, you are of the opinion that there were others that were potentially negligent. And you said Staff Sergeant Baker, you thought, in your opinion, demonstrated gross negligence. Is that accurate?
SCOTT: Yes, sir.
JONES: Were there others that demonstrated gross negligence?
SCOTT: Yes, sir, I believe the .50-cal gunner and the 240- gunner.
JONES: And their names?
SCOTT: ... The .50-cal gunner was Specialist [Stephen] Ashpole and then the 240-gunner was Specialist Stephen Elliott.
JONES: Okay. You also said, though, you listed three other names, CFT commander Saunders, and Dennis. What specifically was the reference to those three?
SCOTT: That they were part of the interview process. So the sworn statements that I received from them were submitted with my original packet to the Regiment Headquarters.
JONES: Okay. But you had mentioned them right after you talked about Staff Sergeant Baker and negligence.
SCOTT: No. Okay, sir. That must have been my fault because they shouldn't be connected to the negligence. I think I was just referring to the fact that in my investigation, I had to interview those that are the same rank or higher in rank than I. I think that's what I was trying to portray.
SCOTT: I just -- this whole process -- and I was going through the interview process, it was really -- I think it's pretty easy to say that -- probably the most difficult things, in fact, the most difficult things that I had to do since I've been in the Army. The other difficult thing, though, was watching some of these guys getting off ... with what I thought was a lesser of a punishment than what they should've received. And I will tell you, over a period of time, you know, sir, you're like the third, fourth investigating officer to come in, [and] without the sworn statements, the stories have changed. They have changed to, I think, help some individuals.
And I'm going to give you an example and I'm hoping this doesn't -- this recording doesn't leave this room. But I was called in to the battalion commander's office. And the reason I'm saying this is because I disagree how this happened. But, during Staff Sergeant Baker's field grades meeting and they had the entire chain of command [inaudible] ... that were involved, the NCO, the company commander, first sergeant, all sticking up for Baker.
And the reason the battalion commander [Colonel Jeffrey Bailey] called me in was because the NCOs, [it] so happened, changed their story in how things occurred and the timing and the distance; in an attempt to stick up for their counterpart, [they] implied, insinuated that the report wasn't as accurate as I submitted it up the chain of command.
And so instead of, really, an individual punishing or giving out the punishment to Staff Sergeant Baker, I was the one in there saying, "No, this is accurate. They signed [interviews], sir, that were given to me." And that Staff Sergeant Baker did indeed show some gross negligence. So I kind of was the bad guy in front of the entire chain of command, sticking to the report, sticking to the conclusion.
And that probably should've been handled much differently than that, I think. I don't know if it was an attempt to put me in as a bad guy ... The bottom line is, Staff Sergeant Baker was not chaptered out of the Army. I thought at a minimum that's what he should've received, but he did not. He received a field grade. Individuals Elliott [and] Ashpole were [inaudible] given company grades and now are serving in a different unit.
And ... you asked me if there's anything else. I guess that's really my frustration, is that I had to go through this, come up with a conclusion and then part of my recommendation was saying we need to look at these guys. Here are some individuals that could potentially, and have, demonstrated lack of control but more importantly the gross negligence ... And then at the end I thought the investigation was complete. That they didn't get their due just punishment, and that they were just released; I guess that's why I was frustrated in how that all unfolded.
JONES: Let's go ahead and take a pause here, if you could, and just step out for a minute.
SCOTT: Yes, sir.


***

Within days of the hearing, I receive a copy of an interview the IG agents had with Commander Mallak and the medical examiner. A reporter who got it through the Freedom of Information Act sent it to me. It angers me that the interview was not given to us with the rest of the interviews. This interview is particularly revealing and upsetting. Commander Mallak tells the IG agent that within a day or two after Pat's autopsy, he and Dr. Carruso had concerns. Dr. Carruso contacted Human Resource Command.

IG AGENT: Okay. What were those concerns?
MALLAK: That the gunshot wounds to the forehead were atypical in nature and that the initial story that we received didn't, the medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described.
IG AGENT: And did he express those concerns just verbally or was it in writing or how?
MALLAK: It was just verbally at first. In fact, we were in this office and we called HRC from here and expressed our concerns.
IG AGENT: And HRC is?
MALLAK: Human Resources Command.
IG AGENT: And where is that?
MALLAK: Down at the Hoffman Building.
IG AGENT: And that's the United States Army?
MALLAK: Yes.
IG AGENT: Okay, and who did you talk to, do you recall?
MALLAK: [The name is redacted, but we know from reading some unredacted documents that Dr. Carruso and Commander Mallak spoke to Brigadier General Gina Farrisee, the adjutant General], and there were a couple of other folks that she brought into the conversation.
IG AGENT: And that was a day of so after the autopsy was performed?
MALLAK: Within a few days, I can't remember the exact date.
IG AGENT: Okay, what was their response?
MALLAK: They said they didn't think that our concerns were warranted at that time, that, that they had the story, that it made sense to them and they were going to proceed.

***

During O'Neal's testimony, he makes it clear that he was a hundred percent certain Pat was killed by fratricide. He says his battalion commander, Colonel Bailey, told him not to tell Kevin his brother was killed by friendly fire. He also says Colonel Bailey had him sit at a computer to write a statement about what happened the evening Pat was killed. He tells the committee the statement was changed without his consent and used to support Pat's Silver Star. The inspector general's investigation uncovered that Staff Sergeant Matt Weeks's statement was also altered, and neither statement from Weeks or O'Neal was signed.

Steve White testifies that he is haunted by the fact that he was the person who read the false narrative of Pat's death to the family and the public. "My role as far as at the memorial -- it's a horrible thing that happened with Pat. I'm the guy that told America how he died basically, at that memorial, and it was incorrect. That does not sit well with me." It is repugnant that the government would set up Pat's good friend, an honorable and decorated officer, a Navy SEAL, to deceive the American public. He said he was the given the fraudulent accounting over the phone by someone he thinks was under Kensinger's command.

Committee members are outraged that the inspector general did not follow through to find out who falsified the documents. The investigators found evidence of a cover-up but made no attempt to find out who was responsible.


***

It seems no one, no matter how determined, can penetrate the lies and deceptions that surround the Bush administration and its institutions.

***

Every one of you have disregarded your duty, acting deliberately and shamelessly to kill my son and lie about it.... In sum, fuck you and yours.

-- Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman, by Mary Tillman with Narda Zacchino
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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:03 pm

Inside Front Cover

On April 22, 2004, Lieutenant David Uthlaut received orders from Khost, Afghanistan, that his platoon was to leave the town of Magarah and "have boots on the ground before dark" in Manah, a small village on the border of Pakistan. It was an order the young lieutenant protested vehemently, but the commanders at the Tactical Command Center disregarded his objections. Uthlaut split his platoon into two serials, with Serial One traveling northwest to Manah and Serial Two towing a broken Humvee north toward the Khost highway. By nightfall, Uthlaut and his radio operator were seriously wounded, and an Afghan militia soldier and a U.S. soldier were dead. The American soldier was Pat Tillman.

The Tillman family was originally informed that Pat, who had given up a professional football career to serve his country, had been ambushed by the enemy and shot in the head while getting out of a vehicle. At his memorial service twelve days later, they were told that he was killed while running up a hill in pursuit of the enemy. He was awarded a Silver Star for his courageous actions. A month and two days after his death, the family learned that Pat had been shot three times in the head by his own troops in a "friendly fire" incident. Seven months after Pat's death, the Tillmans requested an investigation.

Boots on the Ground by Dusk is a chronicle of their efforts to ascertain the true circumstances of Pat's death and the reasons why the Army gave the family and the public a false story. Woven into the account are valuable and respectful memories of Pat Tillman as a son, brother, husband, friend, and teammate, in the hope that the reader will better comprehend what is really lost when our sons and daughters are killed or maimed in war.

In the course of three and a half years, there have been seven investigations, several inquiries, and two Congressional hearings. The Tillmans are still awaiting an outcome.

Mary Tillman, Pat Tillman's mother, was a teacher in the San Jose unified School District for 15 years. She currently resides in San Jose, California.

Narda Zacchino is a former associate editor of the Los Angeles Times and deputy editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. She is currently a writer and editor living in Los Angeles.

Front cover photo by Will Ryan
Back cover photo courtesy of the Tillman Family

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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:04 pm

Chapter 1

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.

-- CHARLES A. BEARD


A chilly breeze rustles the leaves of an old elm, whose branches hang over me like a canopy. The sound of crackling and sizzling oak logs is all I hear as I sit wrapped in a quilt staring into the fire pit in my front yard. One log splinters and falls onto another. There is a snap and a swish as tiny yellow and red sparks scatter into the darkness, as if to join the flickering stars in the distance. I light my cigarette wondering what I would do if I couldn't smoke, if I couldn't blow out my anger, frustration, and sense of crippling loss into the night.

In forty-eight years I have never been a smoker, but now I am smoking to stay sane. Pulling the quilt around my shoulders, I wonder how it can be so cold tonight, when just weeks earlier I sat sweltering in a pink linen dress at my son's memorial service. It was important to me that I not wear black on that day. I wanted to wear something cheerful in celebration of his life and his spirit. However, as I sat in the intense heat listening to the whine of bagpipes, perspiration seeping through the light fabric, I felt vulnerable, exposed, as though people could see the pain of my loss through my sweat-soaked dress.

Ashes from my cigarette fall onto the quilt. I toss the butt into the fire and look around at what I can see of my yard from the light of the flames. In the two weeks following my son's death, this yard had been almost constantly full of people. I remember the movement of bodies and drone of voices, but I only recall a few specific faces, and I remember almost nothing of what was said. Now the yard is empty. My family members have returned to their homes to face their own void, and our friends have gone back to lives they neglected in order to support us and to deal with the shock over the death of their friend. I feel alone and frightened, wondering how I am going to live my life without my oldest son.

The fog is rolling in, obscuring the stars in the distance. I get up to place another log on the fire and stare into the blaze. My thoughts drift to another time, and I turn to look up at the elm tree behind me. My eye catches a six-inch stub, a remnant from a branch removed long ago, protruding twelve feet from the base of the sturdy trunk. A painful lump forms in my throat, and my sinuses sting as I try to hold back tears. But as my brain conjures the memory that my emotions fear to confront, a smile forms on my face, gently releasing the welling tears down my cheeks.

I see my son at nineteen, standing muscled and tan on the front stoop of our house, smiling devilishly, first at me, and then in the direction of the elm twenty feet away. I watch his smile slowly fade as his eyes stare intently at something I cannot see. Suddenly, he pushes off from the stoop and takes a running leap at the tree, planting his right foot about five feet up the trunk. His momentum propels him to grab the stub jutting at least five feet above his head and to swing himself with one solid tug onto an adjacent branch. He stands up with his arms raised and smiles down on me as if to say, "Life is great!" And then we both laugh.

It was under the umbrella of this big elm that my son played as a child. The house that stands before me, that holds so many memories, is where we lived when he was born. Patrick Daniel Tillman was full of life from the moment he came into the world at 9:39 on the morning of November 6, 1976, occipito-posterior, facing up -- a stargazer.

He was brought home to this house, which is nestled in the rocky and wooded canyon of New Almaden, a California settlement developed in 1845 after a rich supply of quicksilver (mercury) was discovered there. Quicksilver was once a necessary component in processing gold and silver as well as in manufacturing munitions, which led President Lincoln to seize the mines in 1863, for the duration of the Civil War.

From the time I was ten years old, the Civil War has fascinated me; learning that New Almaden had in fact played a crucial role in that war made me feel we had moved to the perfect place. The mines operated under private ownership until the year Pat was born, when Santa Clara County purchased the surrounding property for a county park. These four thousand acres, with their twenty miles of beautiful and rugged trails, is where I would take Pat for walks as a baby.

He was not a cuddly infant. Actually, he was a little malcontent. He didn't like being swaddled and held like most babies; he preferred to be upright. I remember I would sit in a chair and hold him up so he could bounce on my knees until my arms got so tired I could no longer hold him. As an infant Pat was quite sinewy, displaying his father's quick-twitch muscles and the incredible coordination of his uncle Rich. When he was three months old, his father and I got a back carrier for him. He was really too little to sit in it properly, so I'd stuff diapers all around him so he would fit snugly. It was from the back carrier that Pat got his first exposure to Quicksilver County Park.

We would hike for hours while I described the sights. Along with the birds and squirrels, it was not unusual to see wild turkeys, families of quail, wild boar, or an occasional rattlesnake. On weekends, Pat's father and I also liked to take him on walks past the reservoir two miles up the road. We loved living in this quaint secluded place, but my husband's hour-long commute to Cupertino, where he worked, was grueling. So when Pat was seven months old, we moved to Campbell, California, where our second son, Kevin, was born.

About six months before Kevin's arrival, Pat went through a phase of regularly hurling himself out of his crib and onto the floor in protest of bedtime. He would crawl over to the bedroom door, put his hand through the crack underneath it, and howl, "O-o-o-u-t! O-o-o-u-t!" You could see the little pink balls of his fingers desperately seeking someone's attention. I would sit on the couch with a lump in my throat and tears rolling down my face. My pediatrician had told me I needed to let him cry, and eventually he would stop, and as a young mom, I still thought my doctor knew best. When Pat's crying stopped, his father and I would gently open the door to find him asleep, knees curled under him, diapered bottom in the air, and his hand still reaching through the space under the door. We would carefully lift him and place him back in the crib. After a week of this gut-wrenching ritual, we decided to get Pat a big-boy bed with a railing on it.

Pat never really crawled in the way babies do. To get around, he would hold a plastic doughnut in each hand and push them around the floor with his legs straight, butt in the air, and knees never touching the floor. He learned to walk when he was eight and a half months old.

By the time Kevin was born on January 24, 1978, fourteen-month-old Pat seemed very much a little man. Now the crib that had been so repellent to him just months before became a curiosity; it held his baby brother. Pat began climbing into the crib and carefully curling up next to Kevin, as if he had an innate sense that he could hurt the baby if he rolled over. Pat was quite pleased to have Kevin in his world and liked to help me bathe, feed, and change him. Pat did not like to nap; he hated the idea that he might miss something, but some days I needed him to take a nap, so I would sit on the floor, with Kevin in the infant seat next to me, and read aloud as Pat played. Eventually, Pat would sidle up and sit between his brother and me. Often he fell asleep holding Kevin's hand.

Pat was talking all the time by twenty-two months. If you asked him his name, he would say, "Packet Daniel Tillman." He pronounced Kevin "Nubbin." As months passed, Pat learned to pronounce his own name properly, but he continued to call Kevin Nubbin or Nub. To this day, everyone close to Kevin calls him Nub.

We had a nice little front yard at the triplex. My husband and I had put in a new lawn six months before Kevin was born, so the grass was thick and green. But I was nervous about the boys playing in the front yard close to the street, so I usually had them play in the back, where there was a tiny patch of grass alongside the cement parking area.

My mother, Victoria Spalding, who lived twenty miles away in Fremont, often came to visit us when she wasn't working. One morning she and I took the boys to the PruneYard, an outdoor shopping mall ten minutes from our house. My youngest brother, Mike, who was around eighteen at the time, was going to come to visit in the afternoon. Time got away from us, and I was worried we wouldn't get home in time for my brother's arrival. I told the boys, "We have to hurry. Uncle Mike is coming. We don't want him to have to wait for us." I strapped Pat and Kevin into their car seats and we headed home. Pat, not wanting to keep his uncle waiting, kept saying, "Hurwe, Mom! Hurwe!" As we turned the corner onto our street, Pat unbuckled his seat belt, scrambled out of his car seat, and planted himself behind the front seats, poking his head between my mom and me. When he saw his uncle's Volkswagen parked in our driveway, his face looked grave. Concerned that his uncle had been waiting, he yelled at the top of his lungs, "Here we come, Unka Mike!"

Pat was always unbuckling his car seat. In the late seventies, the car seats were easy to buckle and unbuckle. It was constant worry and aggravation. I would be driving down the freeway, glimpse in the rearview mirror, and see Pat out of his seat. I'd turn around to find him unhooking Kevin and helping him out. Both of them would start to giggle and squat behind the seats, covering their heads with their blankets. I'd have to pull over, put them back in their seats, and scold them. We would then head off down the road. Within ten minutes, Pat would be out of his seat and letting his brother loose again. It didn't matter how annoyed I got; they both seemed to think the routine was a hoot. I can't recall when this little antic stopped, but I was grateful when it did.

Just before Kevin turned a year old, we moved to another location in Campbell, where we rented a white elephant of a two-story house. The beauty of it was that it had a fairly good-sized backyard. My husband hung two ropes from some beams that at one time had supported a patio roof. The boys would wear Spider-Man Underoos with Superman capes and swing from one side of the patio to the other, clearing their world of bad guys. By the time Pat was two and a half, he could hold on to both ropes and swing into a back flip. Kevin, at fourteen months, would hold on to both ropes, lift his feet in the air, and wait for his own flip to happen. He wouldn't put his feet down until his brother clapped in approval.

At this stage, the boys looked very much alike. Strangers would often mistake them for twins. They both had blond hair with the same bowl cut. Firm, chubby cheeks padded faces of similar structure. Their skin was naturally a creamy pink, but a day or two in the sun turned them brown like berries and streaked their brown eyebrows with golden strands. The difference in their faces was in the eyes. When serious, Pat's deep, dark, almond-shaped eyes had an intensity and earnestness that could be startling as well as unsettling. When he laughed, they turned into horizontal black crescents that twinkled and teased playfully. Kevin had enormous blue eyes surrounded by feathery black lashes that made him look curious and surprised at the same time. For several years, I called Kevin my Tweety Bird. Within six months or so, Pat's jaw became much more angular, and once again, it was clear he was the older brother.

Several months before Pat turned three, on a very windy day, he and Kevin were upstairs playing while my mom and I baked cookies in the kitchen below. At about the same moment, we looked at each other, thinking the same thing: "The boys are too quiet!" As I rounded a corner to head up the stairs, there was a knock on our front door. It was my neighbor from across the street. She told me Pat had climbed out the second-story window onto the roof of the porch.

I bolted upstairs, questions racing through my mind: How had Pat unlocked a window I could barely open myself? Had I forgotten to lock it? I ran into the room and found Kevin on his tiptoes, peering outside, watching his brother. I gathered myself, my heart racing, walked to Kevin, picked him up, and handed him to my mom, who was now behind me. Kneeling down, I stuck my head outside to discover Pat had leaped from the roof to a tall, thin tree that grew about three feet from the house. He had his arms wrapped around the trunk and yelled with joy, "Here it comes!" as the wind blew the tree back and forth.

I tried not to panic. Slowly, I climbed out the window and, seated on the roof, inched my way along the length of the house. I sat on the edge, nearly paralyzed with fear, coaxing Pat to grab my arm as the wind blew him toward me. On the next gust, the tree carried him in my direction, and I frantically grabbed his outstretched arm and yanked him onto my lap. He hung on tightly around my neck as we shimmied back to the open window, where I handed him off to my mom. I took Pat by the shoulders and started to scold him, but as I looked into his intense brown eyes, so full of delight and mischief, I started to cry and simply hugged him close. Only after hours passed was I calm enough to sit down and talk to him about what he had done. He promised not to do it ever again.

We enjoyed living in Campbell. I took the boys all over town in the red wagon or the stroller, with Kevin riding in the seat and Pat standing in the back. Our adventures usually ate up a good part of the day, as the boys were never content to sit in the vehicle of choice for very long. They would get out to chase bugs, pick up leaves off the ground, pet dogs and cats, and climb on benches and fire hydrants. I liked taking them to John D. Morgan Park, which had a wonderful slide. The only way to get to the top was to climb up a ladder inside a giant cylinder. There were lots of swings and a net rope to climb, all in a sea of sand.

When the boys got hungry, we would eat a picnic lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, raisins, carrots, and apple juice. If it was right after payday, we might have ham sandwiches, grapes, slices of cheese, and oatmeal cookies. On the way home, Pat always liked steering the wagon down the descending half of the pedestrian bridge over the expressway we had to cross to get home. Kevin would sit in front of him, and Pat would hold on to the handle and steer them down as I caught them at the bottom, bracing myself for the inevitable slam of the wagon on my shins. The joy they got from this routine was worth it.

One late spring day, the boys were cranky, and I was, too. I decided it was time they learned to play baseball. I loaded them in the wagon and took them to the store to buy a Wiffle bat and ball. We went to the A&W for root beers and then home, where I taught them in the backyard how to hit a ball. Both boys were right-handed, but they naturally swung as lefties. Their dad praised me for teaching them to swing with their strong arms. Almost a week passed before I finally admitted they both instinctively hit as lefties; I had nothing to do with it.

In August 1980, the house in New Almaden was once again available to rent. A new road had been built, allowing quicker access to the freeway and shortening my husband's commute. While we were preparing for our move, my father-in-law, Hank, died of lung cancer. He had been fighting the disease with tremendous dignity since before Kevin was born. His death was very difficult, even though it put an end to his suffering. I loved Hank very much; my own father had died suddenly of a heart attack when I was eighteen, so my father-in-law was important in my life. Hank's death, though, was far more painful for my husband. He had been an extremely busy young husband and father, going to work each day and law school at night, with little time left to spend with the boys and me and virtually none for his parents. He'd made as much time as he could for his dad once we learned he was ill, but it wasn't enough; there could never be enough time.

Several weeks after Hank's death, we were back in New Almaden. I was five months pregnant with Richard and happy to be back in the rural setting so the boys could wake up to the sound of our neighbor's roosters and play in the country. It was also good for their dad to be in a relaxing setting at the end of the day.

Richard's due date was January 6, 1981. However, that day came and went, and all I did was get bigger and more exhausted. Obviously, the doctor had miscalculated, but when you have a date in your head, it's difficult to wait any longer. On the morning of January 23, I started having contractions. Patrick and I dropped the boys off at the Fergusons', friends who had two young sons, and we drove to Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Santa Clara, about fifteen miles away. Within a half hour, we were back in the car; it was false labor. The doctor suggested we go for a long, bumpy ride. My husband bought me some ice cream to wipe the pout off my face and took me on every winding, pothole-laden road from Santa Clara to Morgan Hill. Richard was born at 2:00 a.m. on January 24, Kevin's third birthday.

Patrick brought Pat and Kevin to the hospital that afternoon. I felt terrible that I had nothing with me to give Kevin for his birthday, although he was thrilled with his baby brother. I walked to an area near the elevators and handed them each a package of crackers that had come with my meal. As their dad and I stood talking, Kevin struggled to open his crackers. Suddenly, his package burst open and the crackers fell to the floor. He looked down at them with disgust and yelled, "Ah, shit!" Everyone looked at my husband, and one guy said, "Way to go, Dad."

Pat and Kevin were excited to have a baby brother. They liked helping me bathe him in the sink. I would give them each a plastic cup and let them rinse off the suds. As Richard got older and started to crawl, the boys called him Goose because in his big diaper, he had a goose butt. However, by the time Richard started to walk, Pat and Kevin decided that with his blond hair, stout body, and dark brown eyes, he looked remarkably like Winnie the Pooh. From that day on, they endearingly called him Pooh, Pooh Bear, or -- when giving him a bad time as teenagers -- Shit Bear.

When Richard was a baby, they didn't like to leave him alone while they played, so they took turns carrying him from room to room or from one spot in the yard to the other. We concluded that the reason Richard didn't walk until he was fifteen months old is that his brothers carried him everywhere they went. They had great fun playing in our secluded little yard, and I felt very content hanging my clothes on the clothesline on warm days as Richard crawled around on a blanket or in his playpen, and Pat and Kevin rode their Big Wheels, played cars in the dirt, or ran around in Underoos with squirt bottles hanging from their belts.

In August 1981, when Pat was four, I signed him up for soccer. The team didn't have an assistant coach, so I volunteered. I knew nothing about soccer, but I figured I could learn. Soccer practice was about two and a half miles from our house. In those days we had only one car, which Patrick needed to commute to work, so the boys and I took the city bus as far as it would take us -- about two miles. Then Pat, Kevin, and I, with Richard in a back carrier, walked the last half mile to Hacienda Elementary School. Looking back, I realize that was a long way for two little guys to walk, but at the time I thought nothing of it. We did this two evenings a week. Most evenings their dad would help out with the last part of practice, and we would drive home together. On the evenings my husband had classes, the head coach drove us home.

We didn't win many games that year, but we had fun. Pat wasn't sure he liked soccer. He actually would have preferred staying home to climb trees. But Kevin loved going to his brother's practice. Midseason, we bought Kevin his own cleats, shin guards, and size-three soccer ball. At Pat's practices, I would set up cones for him on the sidelines, and he would happily dribble through the cones, over and over, alongside Pat's team. We kept telling Kevin that he would get to play on a team the following year, when he turned four. That next season Pat, Kevin, and I lined up at soccer registration to sign them both up. Kevin was so excited; every time we got a step closer to the table, he would look up at me with a big smile. Finally, we stood in front of the woman taking care of registration, and she informed us that the age of eligibility had been changed to five. Pat looked at me in horror as the delighted look on Kevin's face turned to devastation, and tears formed and fell from his eyes. Pat and I tried to console him, but words and soothing gestures were useless. The three of us got into the car. From the rearview mirror I could see Pat patting Kevin's shoulder and looking at him sympathetically as Kevin mean-mugged me all the way home.

The following year I signed Kevin up without a hitch. The team meetings for parents were held on the same evening, so Patrick went to Pat's meeting and I went to Kevin's. We learned that Kevin's team didn't have a head coach. After twenty minutes of banter about who would take the team, I volunteered. I figured I had been an assistant coach already, and I'd watched Pat's coach very carefully. That night, I went home and told Kevin I was going to be his coach. He looked like someone had punched him in the stomach; Pat started to laugh. Standing before me were a five-year-old and a six-year-old who could dribble circles around me. What was I thinking?

Several evenings later, Patrick watched the boys while I attended my first coaches' meeting, where I got my equipment and uniforms. I also learned my team's name. The league determined that the under-six teams would be named after birds. My team was to be the Hummingbirds. Kevin would hate that name, I just knew it. I asked if the team could be called the Eagles or the Hawks or maybe the Vultures, but I was informed those names were taken. "What about the Condors?" I asked. "Does any team have that name?"

"The names have been decided," the meeting coordinator said curtly.

I dreaded Kevin's reaction. At home, I presented him with his new uniform and cheerily told him the team was called the Hummingbirds. His bright, happy face immediately fell. "Oh yeah, Hummingbirds," he said, dropping his uniform in a heap in front of him. Then he turned and went moping down the hall. Pat looked at me quizzically.

"Did you pick that name, Mom? Poor Nub."

He picked up Kevin's uniform and walked down the hall after his brother.

I looked over at my husband, who was observing the scene with amusement. "Did you?" he asked as he plucked Richard out of his highchair.

"Did I what?"

"Did you pick that name?" he said, chuckling.

"No," I said wearily. "What should I do?"

"I think you should disband the team," he said with a wink.

I managed a weak smile, then walked to the bookshelf and grabbed an encyclopedia. In the boys' bedroom, Pat was trying to coax Kevin to try on his uniform. I sat between them, opened the book to a picture of a hummingbird, and pointed out that they are the fastest birds. Pat glanced up at me and then watched Kevin's reaction. Kevin stared at the picture for a few seconds, then walked away with all the dignity a five-year-old can muster.

Two days before the first practice, Pat and Kevin went outside to play, and Pat saw a hummingbird hovering around the bottlebrush plant at the side of the door. I heard him say, "Nub, look. That's a hummingbird. Look how fast it moves." I peeked around the door and watched them observe the bird as it darted around the bush. Once it flew off, the boys went about their play, but when they came into the house an hour or so later, Kevin said, "Mom, our team will be really fast." He skipped down the hall and put on his new uniform. Pat walked in the door and smiled at me, then followed his brother down the hall, happy that once again, Kevin was excited about playing soccer.

At the first practice, I gathered the kids and told them the name of the team. They -- and several of the parents -- all looked at me the same way Kevin had days before. I told them hummingbirds are the fastest birds: "They can flap their wings fifty times a second." I considered telling them that they flap their wings up to two hundred times a second during courtship, but thought better of it. Kevin helped me out by telling everyone that we would be the fastest team.

With a lot of practice, encouragement, creative substitution, and stickers -- lots of stickers handed out for good playing -- we won every game that year. Like Kevin, several of the kids on the team had older siblings they had watched for several years. Those kids were the engine of the team. They taught the others through example, while I looked important wearing my whistle. I was excited for Kevin and so proud of him. He ran around the soccer field, dribbling with abandon and passing like an expert. Two seasons of watching games and practicing on the sidelines had paid off. The first several games, I watched him through eyes welled with tears. He was so happy to be out there. When Pat's games didn't coincide with his, Pat was able to watch him play. Two years of watching his big brother, and now it was his turn. He got a look of ecstatic delight whenever he heard his brother yell at the top of his lungs, "Way to go, Nub!"

Three years later, I would coach Richard's team, again called the Hummingbirds. No longer was Richard the little tyke sucking orange slices on the sidelines and running onto the field at inappropriate times. He was an ominously big five-year-old who could move the ball with surprising grace and had the ability to score a goal from midfield. Because he had watched and played soccer with his brothers for so long, he had an amazing perspective and feel for the game. And so did Matt Kline, the younger brother of a friend of Pat. He had curly brown hair, dark brown eyes that shot tears like a cartoon character when he was upset, and little short legs with calves the size of coconuts with which he could dribble around three people before they knew he was coming. The rest of the kids on the team learned quickly from Richard's and Matt's example. That year, the Hummingbirds had another undefeated season. I framed the banner and hung it in the back room of our house; I was getting a big head.

A year later, I helped my husband coach Richard's team, the Gorillas. Patrick missed many practices because of his work, so I would conduct the practices, and he would coach the games. By the start of the last game of the season, we had won every game. Maybe, I thought, we would have another undefeated season. But it wasn't in the cards. My husband decided to make a substitution the last quarter of the game. One of the kids didn't get his fair share of playing time. I was all for the child playing, but a straight substitution was too risky. "What are you doing? You have to move some players around. He can't play that position," I protested to Patrick between gritted teeth so as not to be heard by the parents. But by the time my objection was voiced, the other team had scored. We couldn't answer back.

Only a few of the kids were disappointed; most of them couldn't have cared less if the game was won. They were just happy to exchange stickers and have their juice and treat. I was the grief-stricken one -- my winning record was ruined. I tried to hide my disappointment; I knew full well how ridiculous it was. My husband and sons laughed and chided me for being a poor loser. I hung up my coaching whistle after that, though I continued to be excessively proud of my coaching success and all too frequently told people about my two undefeated teams and the season that got away. Any time the boys overheard me start to tell someone I coached soccer, they would get sly little grins on their faces and say, "Oh, don't forget to talk about the Hummingbirds and your undefeated seasons."

When the boys weren't busy playing soccer, they were occupied with school. Graystone Elementary School had a system of reward and punishment that Pat took very seriously. The school made it clear: There were good behaviors and bad behaviors, and if you were bad, you got a pink slip. Pat did not want to get a pink slip. By second grade, he was almost obsessed with it.

That same year, Kevin started kindergarten, and one day the three of us were talking after school and Kevin said excitedly, "Today I got a warm fuzzy."

"You got what?" I asked, perplexed.

"A warm fuzzy," he said.

Pat, as if trying to ease my concern, said, "It's a good thing. It's better than a cold prickly."

"A cold prickly!" I said, laughing.

"Yes, you get them for being bad," they both explained.

Patrick and I liked the idea that the kids received recognition for good deeds and behavior, but the pink slips and cold pricklies seemed to be causing a lot of anxiety, especially for Pat. That evening, their dad sat with them and told them it was okay to break a rule now and then. Pat decided to test his father's advice; at some point, he broke a rule, and lightning didn't strike. He started coming home with pink slips for walking up the slide the wrong way, walking briskly on the blacktop, and getting a drink after the bell.

After so many infractions, he decided he better use the slide properly. Unfortunately, he did so by cutting in front of people on the ladder. I got a call one day that he had cut in front of someone, and the kid bit him on the butt. Both boys were suspended for two days. Pat never cut in line again, but testing the limits continued. By the time he got out of fifth grade, we could have wallpapered our bathroom in pink slips.

Middle school was a fun time for Pat. He had terrific friends and conscientious, dedicated teachers, and he thrived on the more sophisticated environment for learning. He liked having different teachers for different classes, and each subject was stimulating to him; it was so much more interesting than staying in the same room all day with one teacher. Pat loved learning new things and discussing ideas, concepts, and opinions. I know several teachers were nearly driven mad by his constant questions, but most of them welcomed his enthusiasm and tenacity. Since he had started school, he was very conscientious about his class work and homework; he particularly liked doing presentations, projects, and essays.

In sixth grade, Pat had to do a presentation on George S. Patton. He worked for several weeks gathering information on note cards. One particularly cold night, he sat by the wall heater in the hall, methodically sorting through his index cards outlining his oral presentation. The next evening he practiced his speech in front of his brothers and me three or four times, and again when his dad got home. He then asked his dad to tie his tie for him so it would be ready to slip on the next day.

He got up early the following morning and put on black slacks, a white shirt, and the tie his dad had prepared for him. Kevin and Richard, who were still in elementary school, wished Pat luck and raced down the driveway to catch their bus. Pat ate breakfast then gathered his things. I wished him luck, and then watched as he crossed the yard and headed down the driveway to catch the city bus. He looked so grown up. He walked with assurance, knowing he was prepared; I was proud of him.

That afternoon, while Kevin and Richard were changing for soccer practice, we heard Pat's bus stop on the road below. We opened the door and watched him run up the driveway, laughing and swinging his tie over his head. When he got to the door he said excitedly, "Mom, I got a B+ over A."

It always amused me that Pat, even in grade school, would question his grades. I would chuckle to myself when I went through his schoolwork and found papers with comments that he had written to the teachers: "What's wrong with it?" "What don't you like?" "Please read it again." Many adults who worked with Pat weren't comfortable with his inclination to question authority, but his dad and I respected and often encouraged it. We didn't want our boys to be disrespectful, but we also didn't want them to be afraid to question or to obey blindly.

This was a lesson I'd learned during six years of Catholic school, when I was exposed to some remarkably gifted, kind, understanding, and dedicated nuns, but also nuns who were unhappy and hateful, who expected unconditional obedience. In the early 1960s, it was not unusual for nuns to slap us, hit our hands with rulers, or otherwise humiliate us by calling us stupid, dumb, or slow. My first-grade teacher at Saint Michael's in Montpelier, Vermont, was about four foot eight, and I think she hated me for being nearly as tall as she was. One day, she kept yelling at me during phonics because I repeatedly mispronounced a vowel sound. I finally yelled back, so she stuck me in the broom closet all morning. I remember twisting my neck like a contortionist as I tried to peer through slats that angled down in order to see what was going on.

By the time I was in third grade, we'd moved to New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. While the students were filing into the pews for Wednesday morning mass, I watched in horror as a nun slapped my seven-year-old brother, Richard, in the face for not wearing a sweater in accordance with our uniform. I ran up to him, grabbed him by the hand, and walked him out of the church and four blocks to our house, tears streaming down my cheeks. I was angry about what the nun had done to my brother and frightened as to what would happen to me. My dad went to our school the next day and firmly admonished the nun who had slapped my brother and her superior who allowed her to get away with it. He also made sure I was not reproached when I returned to school.

I learned from those experiences that adults should not be blindly obeyed or automatically trusted. My husband and I tried to instill politeness and respect in our boys, but we also wanted them to be able to voice their needs and opinions and establish boundaries for those who were not respectful in return. We also made it clear to the boys that if anyone tried to hurt them or make them do something they didn't want to do, they must stand up for themselves.

I don't recall getting any phone calls about Pat's conduct in the classroom during middle school -- he was generally well behaved in class -- but I was consistently called about his roughhousing between periods. He was getting referrals for chasing people, wrestling in the quad, climbing on the bleachers, and talking while walking to assembly. The administrators were perplexed that a boy so conscientious about learning and generally well behaved in class could be so rambunctious outside the classroom.

I remember that the last referral he got at middle school was at the last Bronco Night, the monthly school dance. It seems that Pat turned over his ticket, got his hand stamped, then proceeded to get a running start and slide all the way across the dance floor on his stomach. Swiveling on his pelvis, he stood up dramatically, only to face his principal. Just as I got home after dropping him off, the phone rang for me to come and get him. Pat had slid himself right out of the last schoolwide dance.

Where has that life gone?

A chill comes over me. I'm suddenly aware that I'm staring into dying embers.
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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:05 pm

Chapter 2

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

-- DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.


Friday, May 27, 2004: One month and five days have passed since Pat's death. I sit in a small room next to my classroom at Bret Harte Middle School wondering why I came back to work. Two and a half weeks ago, it seemed the right thing to do. Staying home trying to comprehend what I have lost would be too painful. It seemed wise to get back to work and keep my mind busy. With just over a month of school left before the summer break, I believed it was important, for my students and for me, to finish the year.

Clearly, I made a mistake. The patience I once had is gone. I'm not ready to cope with the demands of middle school students. Some of my seventh- and eighth-grade students had met Pat, and they were devastated to learn of his death. By now their horror has waned, but I continue to live in a state of shock. At times, standing in front of them, I'm struck by the set of a child's jaw, an earnest look in the eyes, the way a small hand holds a pen. I feel the onset of nausea, and my throat tightens to a point where I cannot speak. Memorial Day is three days from now, and I am telling my students the day is set aside to honor fallen soldiers. A wave of unbearable sadness comes over me as I speak the words "fallen soldiers," and I have to leave the room.

Pat is dead, a fallen soldier.

Sitting in this anteroom, I feel safe, shielded from the triggers that uncover grief I'm trying not to reveal. My co-workers, Carmen and Nancy, are letting the kids play bingo. I hear their laughter, and I find myself feeling angry that they can laugh and have fun, and Pat will never laugh again. I force myself to concentrate on the paperwork that mounted up during the two and a half weeks I was away from the classroom.

Nancy tells the kids to pick up and get ready for the bell. The sound of fifteen kids scrambling to turn in bingo cards and load their backpacks prompts me to gather my paperwork and go back to the classroom. They hardly notice me as they hastily grab their chairs and put them on their tables with a collective bang. The bell rings, and they stand behind their tables looking at me anxiously, awaiting their dismissal.

"Good-bye," I say, forcing a weak smile. "Have a relaxing three days." Most of them are too eager to get out the door to respond, but several little stragglers look back at me and chirp, "You, too."

Carmen and Nancy help me get the room in order. They hug me and tell me to try to enjoy my three days off. I see feeble smiles and the helpless looks in their eyes as they turn to leave. They know there is nothing they can say or do to help me. Nancy lost a brother in a car accident when she was in her early twenties; he was fourteen. She understands the pain I feel and realizes there is little anyone can do but to know when -- and when not -- to be present.

As I lock the door to my classroom, I focus on Kevin, Richard, and my daughter-in-law, Marie, Pat's widow, who are coming home for the three-day weekend. I haven't seen them in several weeks; it will be good to have them home. From in my car, I check my phone messages on my home answering service. A reporter from the Arizona Republic left a message asking that I call him. His voice sounds strange to me. Maybe he is confused because on the message machine I refer to myself by my nickname, Dannie. He may not be sure he has the correct number. But there's something else in his voice that gives me an eerie feeling. I haven't heard from reporters for nearly three weeks. I find it odd one is calling now.

I call Pat's father -- now my ex-husband -- and tell him about the message. He assures me the reporter probably was calling to verify some information. I feel something is wrong, but I push the thought out of my mind while I go to the grocery store to pick up some food for the weekend. Once home, I again become concerned about the phone message. I decide to call the reporter in Arizona.

"Hello, this is Mary Tillman. You left a message for me to call you."

"Yes, Mrs. Tillman," the voice sounds uncomfortable. "I'm sorry to bother you. But what do you and your family think of the news the Army has just given you?"

"What news?" I ask. I'm overcome with a feeling of dread.

"You mean the Army hasn't told you?"

"Told me what? What are you talking about?" I ask, trying to contain my panic.

"What do you have to say about the fact Pat may have been killed by friendly fire?"

His words stun me. Blood rushes to my chest, and I feel sick.

"I have nothing to say about it and I never will!" I snap.

Pushing the off button on the portable phone, I hurl it onto the table and begin pacing the floor, a dozen thoughts -- all terrifying -- racing through my head. Does Kevin know? Does Marie know? How do I tell them? How do I tell Richard? What will this do to Kevin?

I run out the front door and across my yard to my neighbors' house. Peggy and Syd Melbourne have lived next door to me for more than twenty-five years. They've watched my sons grow up. Syd was a calm and steady figure in their lives, someone who never seemed to know or care what they were doing but never missed a thing. Peggy, on the other hand, was obviously vigilant. She was a school yard supervisor at their high school. As a teenager, Pat thought she was a "royal pain in the ass," but as he matured, he grew to respect her and love her dearly. They were the first people I ran to upon hearing of Pat's death, and they continue to offer unwavering support.

I knock on the screen door. Peggy walks toward me, sensing right away that something is wrong.

"What's happened, Dannie?" she asks solemnly as she steps out onto her porch.

"Peg, I just heard from a reporter that Pat may have been killed by friendly fire."

Tears form in Peggy's eyes, and her arms open to hug me.

"What next?" she asks as she holds me close.

"I don't know what to do." Peg stands back to wipe away her tears. "I don't know if Kevin knows yet; I'm afraid to call him."

She looks at me intently and says, "Call Alex."

Alex Garwood was Pat's brother-in-law; he is married to Marie's sister, Christine.

"Alex. You're right. He might know something. Thanks, Peggy. I'll call him right away." I run back to my house and dial Alex's number.

"Alex, this is Dannie. A reporter just told me Pat may have been killed by friendly fire." I can barely get the words out. "I don't know what to do. How do I tell Kevin, Marie, and Richard?" Tears well in my eyes.

"Dannie. Dannie!" Alex says firmly. "They know. That's the reason they're coming home this weekend. They wanted to tell you in person before you found out this way. Kevin was told Monday morning that Pat was killed by his own guys."

Tears spill down my cheeks at the sound of those words, "killed by his own guys." I try to process everything else Alex is saying.

"Dannie, I think Kevin called Richard Monday to tell him. Everyone is coming home to tell you in person. The Army assured Kevin the press would not be informed until after he had a chance to tell you. There obviously was a leak."

I don't know what to say. Part of me is relieved that I don't have to be the one to break such horrible news, but I am also heavy with sadness imagining how my sons and daughter-in-law felt when they were told.

"Dannie, are you all right?" Alex asks.

"Yes. I'm fine." I say good-bye. Holding the receiver in my hand, I sit on the front stoop of my house in a daze, looking out at the trees. Trees always remind me of Pat. He loved trees. He loved climbing them, hiking among them, and sitting in them to think.

Several minutes pass; the phone rings.

"Hello," I answer with trepidation, not even looking to see the number on my caller ID.

"Mom?" The voice is full of concern and sounds tired.

"Kevin! Kevin, are you all right?" Hearing the worry in his voice, I forget about my own distress.

"Mom, Alex just called me. I'm sorry you had to find out from a reporter. I wanted to tell you in person. Someone leaked the story."

"It's not your fault, Kevin. How are you holding up? How is Marie?"

"We're both fine. We're flying home tonight." Kevin had returned to Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington, several days after Pat's memorial service. "Richard is driving home right now. Lieutenant Colonel Bailey, my Ranger commander, will be flying in to meet with us unofficially on Sunday to tell us what happened. He went over it with Marie and me already. We will get a formal briefing later."

"Have you talked to your dad? I haven't called him yet. I wanted to get more information." I tell Kevin about the brief conversation I had with his father about the reporter's voice mail message before I learned the news.

"I'll call him. Mom, are you sure you're solid?" I can hear Kevin's voice take a different, almost businesslike, tone.

"Yes, I'm fine. What time are you and Marie flying in?" I think of my lovely daughter-in-law, so young and so dignified, having to deal with Pat's death, and now this.

"I'm not sure. Don't worry about picking us up at the airport; we'll probably rent a car."

"I'll see you both when you get here." As we hang up, I look out the window and see a car arrive. It's Alex. He walks across the yard and reaches out to give me a hug.

"It's deja vu, isn't it?" he says.

"You're right, Alex," I tell him as we sit on the front porch stoop. "This is like the evening you came over after learning of Pat's death. Richard is driving up from Los Angeles right now. I haven't talked to him yet. Do you mind if I give him a call?"

"No, go ahead."

I get up, get the phone, and dial Richard's cell.

"Hello."

"Rich, it's Mom. I know you're on your way home. Honey, I know about the friendly fire." I explain about the reporter's call.

''I'm sorry, Mom," Richard says sympathetically. "Michelle and I are halfway home."

I'm so relieved Richard is with Michelle. I don't like to think of him driving alone under the circumstances. Michelle has been Richard's friend for more than seven months. I got to know her wonderful character when she stayed here for five days right after Pat died. She knew how to just be there for us. I tell Richard I'm glad Michelle is coming and ask how he is handling this new information.

"It's fucked up, Mom. Are you okay?"

"Yes, but I'll be better when all of you are here."

"I'll see you in a few hours, Mom."

"Be careful, Rich."

When I hang up, I see Alex is making coffee in the kitchen. I call my brother Mike. He is saddened by the news but not shocked. He reminds me gently that fratricide, unfortunately, is a real part of battle. He also assures me that he will come to hear what the Ranger commander has to say on Sunday.

Pat's father calls me almost immediately after I finish talking to Mike. He is frustrated that Kevin gave him no details of what happened. I explain that Kevin did not get into any details with me, either, and that we'll have to wait to hear from the colonel when he arrives. Patrick is very angry, and I realize that I am of little comfort. I hang up feeling sad and emotionally drained.

I go out to the stoop where Alex is sitting. He asks me if I'm okay and hands me a cup of coffee.

"Alex, when Kevin called you Monday, did he give you any details of what he learned?"

"All I can say is that it seems the stars were aligned that Pat would die that night."

A chill runs through my body as I stare at the sky. I want to ask more, but right now I'm afraid to hear it. We turn toward the driveway when we hear the sound of an approaching car. Marie's parents, Paul and Bindy Ugenti, pull up. It is clear they are shaken by the news. In an attempt to comfort me, Paul tells us it really doesn't matter how Pat died; nothing will bring him back. I don't know how to respond.

My phone rings. It's Steve White, the Navy SEAL friend of Pat and Kevin who spoke so eloquently at Pat's memorial. He has just learned the news from Kevin, and he is very upset. He tells me that friendly fire happens more often than anyone knows, adding that one of his friends was killed by his own men shortly after Pat died. I thank Steve for calling and hand Alex the phone. While speaking with Paul and Bindy, I overhear him tell Steve there was a "military blunder." I immediately turn to Alex.

"What! What do you mean, 'military blunder'?" I ask, my anger building.

Alex looks at me, horrified. He quickly excuses himself and gets off the phone.

"Dannie, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to hear me. Kevin didn't want me to tell you anything yet. All I know is that a series of mistakes and poor decisions led to Pat's death."

"What!" I scream. I begin to cry. Later, after Alex, Bindy, and Paul leave, I sit numbly on the front stoop staring at the sky and wondering what circumstances led to Pat's death. When I first heard about the fratricide, I thought it was errant fire that caused Pat's death. Learning now that the Army made mistakes that could have been prevented makes me sick.

Suddenly, I'm aware of the night chill and go inside. Grabbing the knitted afghan draped over the couch and wrapping it around my shoulders, I go into the kitchen to make some tea. I lean against the kitchen counter and stare at a picture of Pat and Marie that hangs on the refrigerator door. I grab the whistling teakettle from the burner and pour the boiling water through the strainer of tea into a cup. Switching off the kitchen light, I walk to the family room, where I coil myself into a corner of the couch. I'm reminded of the day Pat and Kevin told me they had decided to enlist in the Army.

Mother's Day 2002 fell on May 9, which is also my brother Mike's birthday. It was the day before Pat and Marie were leaving for their honeymoon in Bora Bora. My plan was to spend a relaxing day at home with my brother and mom. Mike and I went for a hike in Quicksilver Park. We got to a fork in the road, and Mike decided to run a particular trail. We decided to split up and meet where the two trails intersect. Our attempt to meet up was like a scene out of a Three Stooges movie; we kept missing each other, walking past where the other had just been.

I yelled for Mike a few times and asked a woman who was hiking past if she had seen anyone; she hadn't. I decided to head home to shower and get dinner started. Fifteen minutes after I got home, Mike walked up the driveway, wondering what happened to me. He told me he had run into a woman, the same woman I saw, but she indicated she hadn't seen me. We laughed at an image of the two of us standing back-to-back, our hands shading our eyes, each looking out over the expanse of hills for the other.

Just before I got in the shower, Richard called to wish me a happy Mother's Day. I noticed Mike's expression change when the phone rang, but I didn't think much of it. I told Rich about the comical experience Mike and I had on our hike, and he talked about his latest trip to Santa Monica and Venice Beach with his friends. He wished my mom a happy Mother's Day, and she passed the phone to Mike. I yelled good-bye to Rich and jumped into the shower.

Later I was making dinner and talking to my mom and Mike when the phone rang again. I was hoping it was a call from Pat, Marie, and Kevin. Kevin had been released from the Burlington Indians, one of Cleveland's farm teams, just weeks before, and he was staying with Pat and Marie, who were preparing to leave for their honeymoon. As I picked up the phone, Mike looked over at me with an expression of foreboding.

"Hello," I said, not taking my eyes off Mike. There wasn't an immediate reply from the other end, and I started to tense.

"Happy Mother's Day, Ma!" Kevin said cheerfully.

"Thank you, Nub," I responded, relaxing at the sound of his voice.

"Are you having a good day?"

"Yes, it's beautiful today. Mike and I went on a hike ... "

"Ma," he interrupted gently. "Is Mike there?"

"Yes, he's right here," I said softly, feeling something ominous was about to happen.

"Mom, you know how I have talked on and off about enlisting in the military?" My heart froze. He had talked about joining the military over the past few years. Suddenly, I realized that Kevin was telling me he was enlisting. My stomach dropped at the thought of how Richard was going to cope with this decision. Shortly after September 11, Kevin had discussed enlisting with Richard. Rich got extremely scared and angry.

I stood holding the phone, my knees shaking. "Kevin, have you really thought about this?" I felt sick, and my body was getting clammy. "Kevin, do you know what you're doing? Are you positive? What does Pat have to say about this?"

"Mom," he paused. "Pat's joining, too."

I was absolutely speechless. I turned to Mike with an expression of horror. Our eyes locked. It dawned on me that Mike already knew about this.

"Mom, I'm putting Pat on the phone," Kevin said.

Pat's voice sounded pained. "I'm sorry, Mom, to have to tell you over the phone. Kevin and I planned to tell you in person when Marie and I got back from Bora Bora. But someone recognized Kevin and me when we were in an enlistment office, and we were afraid you would find out from a newspaper while Marie and I were gone."

I clutched the table to get my balance before I spoke. "Pat," I said, my voice trembling, "I don't understand. You just got married. What about Marie? How does she feel about this?"

Mike grabbed a chair and placed it behind me, gently nudging my shoulders to prompt me to sit down. I listened as Pat told me how in November 2001, he and Kevin had started talking about enlisting. He told me they believed it was the right thing to do because our country had been attacked, and Marie was involved in the decision. Characteristically, Pat had done a lot of research, particularly about the Army Rangers. He had read about them and traveled to Utah to talk to a former member of the Marine Reconnaissance units to learn more about special operations forces. He introduced Pat to a general, who answered many of Pat's questions. Pat and Kevin did not do things impulsively, and this was no exception: They had been preparing to enlist for six months.

I asked Pat if they had told Richard; they had. My heart was breaking for him. His greatest fear had been that Kevin might enlist; now both of his brothers were signing up.

"Pat, I don't know what to say right now. You and Marie are leaving on your honeymoon tomorrow, and I don't want to take anything away from that. We all have to talk when you get back."

"We will."

"Pat, have you told your dad?"

"We haven't reached him yet, but we're trying. I'll talk to you soon .... Ma?"

"Yes, Pat."

"I love you."

"I love you, too," I said, trying not to cry. "Say good-bye to Kevin and tell him I'll call him tomorrow after he sees you and Marie off. Have a great time in Bora Bora."

"We will. Bye, Mom."

My heart was racing, but my movements were leaden. Mindlessly, I turned off the phone and placed it on the table. My mom sat down across from me and gently took hold of my hand. I raised my head slowly to meet Mike's grim expression.

"Dannie," Mike said solemnly as he pulled up a seat next to me, "Pat and Kevin called me yesterday to tell me. They wanted to make certain I was here with you when they called. I tried to talk them out of it over the phone, but I really need to speak to them in person." I could tell Mike felt terrible for not telling me, but I knew Pat and Kevin had to tell me themselves, and I was grateful Mike was with me.

"I can't believe they're doing this," I said numbly. Yet, even as I said the words, a part of me wasn't shocked.

A feeling of dread had lingered in me since the September 11 terrorist attacks, knowing that horrible act could move Pat or Kevin to enlist. My immediate fear was for Kevin, as he had previously expressed an interest in going into the military. When his rotator cuff surgery hadn't healed properly in January and he was released from the baseball team, I feared he'd have even more incentive to join. It hadn't occurred to me to worry about Pat as much; both he and Kevin were outraged and saddened by the violation against our country, but Pat was about to get married, and he was five years into a professional football career.

Mom, Mike, and I ate our Mother's Day birthday dinner in relative silence. After cleaning the dishes, I made coffee, and we gradually started to talk about the circumstances that were unfolding. Mike and I had concerns about the Bush administration. Invading Afghanistan in October 2001 had seemed the right thing to do. The president had appeared to act cautiously before sending troops into that region, which seemed a good sign then. However, six months had passed, and there was something about Bush's cockiness and lack of empathy, which seemed borne of the fact that he had avoided battle during the Vietnam War, that made me uncomfortable. I was uneasy about what future decisions he might make.

Several times that night, Mike repeated, "I'm proud of Pat and Kevin's decision to defend the country, but I don't want them fighting for this commander-in-chief." He said he planned to go to Phoenix to talk with Kevin while Pat and Marie were away.

After Mike and Mom left, I called Richard. I wanted to give him all my attention when I spoke to him. As I dialed the number, a knot formed in my stomach.

"Hello." He sounded cautious.

"Richard, it's Mom. I know about Pat and Kevin."

"When did they call you?" he asked sullenly.

"Several hours ago, but I wanted to talk to you after Mike and Mom left ...."

"This is just fucked up, Mom," his voice cracked. "I don't think I can talk about it right now. I'll call you tomorrow. Is that all right?"

"Of course," I said, trying to stay strong for him.

"How are you doing with this, Mom?"

''I'm not sure, Rich," I said. ''I'm in shock. It's probably better we talk tomorrow; I'll have a better idea of how I feel."

"I'll call you when you get home from work," he told me.

"Good. Hang in there, hon," I said.

"You too, Mom."

I hung up feeling overwhelmed but unable to move or cry. I began to wonder what my father would think if he were alive. Like Mike and me, I knew he would be proud of Pat and Kevin for wanting to serve their country. Yet I wondered whether he would share my doubts about the administration. Thirty-five years ago, he and I had been at odds over Vietnam. He'd died before seeing the outcome of that involvement. Would he have encouraged Pat and Kevin? Or would he have feared, as I did now, that our family had glamorized the honor of military service?

Discussions about the military had been part of the boys' childhood -- why people fight for their country; why they should; when it is right to do so; the effect of war on people; how it crushes them tragically or enables them to do heroic things. At dinnertime and at holiday gatherings, our conversations had often turned to the military and its place in history and in our family. My sons were influenced by these stories and of our family's military past.

My younger brothers, Richard and Mike, and I had inherited an appreciation of history from many relatives, but our fascination with military history came directly from my father, Richard M. Spalding, who had served as a Marine in the Korean War, and from my mother's brother, John Conlin, who had served in World War II and the Korean War, and then the National Guard.

I'd majored in history at San Jose State University, and my ex-husband, Patrick, who was an economics major, had also studied history. My interest in military history, particularly the Civil War, developed during my frequent childhood visits to Gettysburg National Military Park in the mid-1960s. I was ten to twelve years old when we lived in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, less than forty miles away from the historic battlefield. My father and mother took my brothers and me there nearly every weekend. With great poignancy, Dad would make the history of that war come alive for us. We could picture the Confederate troops advancing down the Chambersburg Pike on July 1, 1863, the first day of the battle, and those Southern forces charging the Union position on the third day.

To help us understand the tragedy of the valiant but futile Pickett's Charge, Dad told us the story of the encounter at Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, between Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead and Union troops led by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. These two men had met and became friends at West Point and served together in the same infantry in California before the Civil War. Armistead was wounded on Cemetery Ridge. He asked if he could see his adversary and once-good friend, General Hancock, but was told Hancock had been wounded just minutes earlier. Although Armistead's wounds had not appeared to be life-threatening, he died the morning of July 5 in a Union field hospital. It was haunting to know that these two friends had fought against each other, both had been wounded in the same skirmish, and one had died.

We often had picnics on a knoll between Little Round Top and Devil's Den and dangled our feet in a creek near Spangler's Spring. My father bought us Confederate and Union hats that we wore as we ran through the fields, climbing rocks and trees in the vast historical park. The statues, monuments, and cannons that memorialize the soldiers who fought there demanded reverence, and Dad made it very clear that climbing on the monuments was disrespectful. But sometimes we forgot ourselves, and Dad would catch us and get angry. I vividly remember being yanked firmly from an equestrian statue of Major General John Sedgwick and feeling ashamed and embarrassed. The museums, the cemetery, and the home of Ginnie Wade, the only civilian to be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, fascinated me.

My ghoulish little brothers were particularly intrigued by the replica field hospital, where bloody wax arms and legs were thrown into a barrel by the window. They referred to it as the "arms and legs museum." My father earnestly and patiently talked to us about battles, strategies, and tactics. I remember him telling us that prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee often had split his troops into sections. He did it out of necessity, and he got away with it because of the incompetence of Northern generals. However, my father cautioned that it was never a good idea to do that because troops can lose communication with one another, resulting in confusion and chaos.

During the time we visited Gettysburg, former president Dwight David Eisenhower was living at his Gettysburg home. We once walked into the Gettysburg library and saw him sitting at a table, reading. I remember being in awe of this honored and respected World War II general, even though he was by then a frail old man. From 1944 through 1945, Eisenhower had been responsible for planning and directing the successful invasion of France and Germany by Allied forces, and still he'd cautioned against governments using military strength and resources to achieve political and commercial gain.

As children, we'd played military games while visiting my uncle John. I knew that during World War II he had been the last soldier to parachute safely out of a crashing plane, and he had been so shaken by that experience that he never boarded another plane once he got out of the military. Uncle John had no children of his own, so his nieces and nephews were like his kids. Often, when we would visit him in Newark, Ohio, he would set up his military tent for us in the backyard in the summer and in the living room in the winter. We would sit in the tent eating Army rations, which were pretty terrible, and garlic popcorn. While Uncle John rarely spoke to us of his military experiences, he would take us to military cemeteries and army bases. Once when he and my grandmother visited us in Nyack, New York, they took me to West Point. I was only three years old, but I still remember the ornate swords and rifles displayed behind glass in one of the buildings. My parents took my brothers and me back to West Point when I was thirteen and living in Tenafly, New Jersey. The statues and buildings were old, formidable, and impressive. I didn't notice the plebes my first visit to the campus, but ten years later, they were the main attraction.

Military service was part of the life of my husband's family as well, which of course became familiar to my sons. Their paternal grandfather, Hank Tillman, and two great uncles had served in the Navy, and all were stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed by the Japanese; all three survived. My father-in-law did not talk about his painful wartime experiences, but he occasionally spoke about the fun times and camaraderie. I found his stories fascinating. One New Year's Eve, my husband, Patrick, and I went to a party and left two-month-old Pat with my in-laws. After several hours I left the party to go nurse the baby, intending to return before midnight to celebrate the New Year. But I ended up talking with my mother-in-law, Mary, my husband's youngest brother David, and Hank, who started telling stories about hitchhiking, drinking, and just hanging out with his Navy buddies.

My dad, like my father-in-law, didn't talk much about the specifics of his military service or any horrors he might have seen. It wasn't until after he died that I learned his best friend had been blown up by a land mine just yards in front of him. When he talked about the Marines, he talked about friendships, drinking and brawling in seedy bars, hitchhiking from town to town, being stationed on the USS New Jersey, swimming with dolphins in the Pacific Ocean, and boot camp.

Dad had been stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. With a wistful expression, he would recall how he and his fellow Marines had to run miles along the beach on the thick sand in their combat boots. The exercise was grueling and the drill sergeants, merciless. Yet, when the drill was over, even though they all complained and grumbled, everyone who completed it experienced a sense of achievement and solidarity. My brothers liked the story my dad told of a group of Marines maneuvering under barbed wire on their bellies as they were being shot at with live rounds. One Marine kept sticking his butt in the air. The drill instructors continually yelled at him to get his butt down, but he continued to jut it out until it took a bullet. The guy was out of commission for weeks, but he had a great time holding court in the infirmary. To this day I wonder if the story is true.

From the time I was very little, I was aware of my father's pride in being a Marine. When I was three years old, in the days before children's car seats, I would stand between my parents, feet digging into the soft leather of the big front seat, and sing the entire Marine Corps Hymn at the top of my lungs: "From the Halls of Montezuma ... " My father would sing with me. My brother Richard served in the Marines in the late seventies, and my brother-in-law Jim served in the Army around the same time. Military service was prevalent in my family and my husband's family, and we were taught to respect it.

The 1960s and '70s produced good war movies, and I saw most of them: Battle of the Bulge, The Great Escape, Patton, The Devil's Brigade, The Dirty Dozen, A Bridge Too Far, and many more. When my boys were old enough, my husband and I shared these old films with them, and we also watched and discussed contemporary war movies: Platoon; Apocalypse Now; Good Morning, Vietnam; and The Thin Red Line.

We talked about how war best exemplifies the camaraderie of men, especially when in battle, and puts people in positions to think about what they value, making them put their integrity on the line. The subject fascinated me. I had always believed that war brings out the best and the worst in people. This belief would come to dominate my life in a way I never would have imagined at the time.

My own thoughts about war evolved over the years. The United States' involvement in Vietnam had begun before I was born. By the time I was thirteen, I already felt very conflicted about it. My father supported our presence there and believed we were doing the right thing. I loved and respected my dad, so I was deeply influenced by his opinions. But I had teachers I also respected who were telling me our involvement in Southeast Asia was wrong. By the time I was in high school, I had decided that Vietnam was not at all a moral war and we didn't belong there. I got into an argument with my father about it. I had never shouted at him before, and I remember becoming very angry and running out of the room in tears. After that, we never spoke about Vietnam again. Looking back, I can understand the conflict he must have felt. The senseless destruction, loss of life, and government deception clashed with his belief that ours is a righteous country.

The first Gulf War started when Pat and Kevin were in their early teens and Richard was ten. I felt it was an unjust war. As with Vietnam, we had not been attacked, nor had we been threatened; a motivating factor was oil, and I believed it was unacceptable, outrageous, and inhumane to put lives on the line in a fight over oil. I also was appalled when President George H. W. Bush told the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein and then backed out, leaving the Kurds to be slaughtered by Hussein's men. No one knew what was going to happen in the region. I wondered at the time if tensions there would escalate due to our involvement.

My sons were getting closer to draft age by then; there might come a time when the draft would be reinstated and they would be called. Because we had talked so much with the boys about the honor of military service, I wanted them to understand that this was not the kind of war to get into. I did not glorify this war. The briefings to the public by Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell did not stress the serious nature of what was happening, and it disturbed me that the daily visuals from the war zone looked like a video game. My sons spoke of the war as cool. They had trouble understanding that people were dying. My husband and I would remind them, "You're not seeing the death there."

Curled up on my couch, securing the blanket over my shoulders, I recoil. All of those discussions of the military and the honor of serving come back to haunt me. Through tear-filled eyes, I look out the picture window into the darkness.
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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:05 pm

Chapter 3

I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three.

-- UNKNOWN


The lights of an approaching car cast a hazy light onto my front yard. Richard gets out and walks toward the front door. His arms reach for me, and he holds me close. Michelle hangs back for a moment, and then she comes up to give me a hug. We walk into the house, where I put out some light snacks. They look exhausted.

"How are you holding up, Mom?" Rich asks.

"I'm okay, how about you two?"

"I don't know. I never did believe the story about Pat charging up the hill to the enemy. Pat wasn't that stupid."

"I know. There was something off about that story."

"Did Kevin tell you anything about what really happened?" Michelle asks.

"No. But I learned from Alex that his death was the result of military blunders." My eyes well up, and I can't say any more.

"Yeah, that's all we know," Rich says. "Kevin didn't fill us in much. He just told me to head home. It's good to be here, Mom."

"I'm glad you're here." I get up and walk behind him to wrap my arms around his shoulders as the phone rings. It's Kevin; he tells me the Army can't fly him and Marie home until tomorrow.

"Is Rich home yet?" Kevin asks.

"Yes, he and Michelle got here about fifteen minutes ago."

"Good. I'm glad you're not alone. I just got off the phone with Dad. He sounds better than he did earlier in the day. Mary is with him," Kevin says.

My ex-husband's girlfriend, Mary Badame, has been with him for more than five years. She is a very kind and gentle person who has been very supportive of all of us, before and after Pat's death.

Rich and Michelle get their bags from the car. Rich grabs two sleeping bags out of the closet and lays them out in the family room.

I straighten the kitchen as they get ready for bed. I give them each a hug, then go to my room. I read for about an hour, then lie rigidly on my back. I'm very tired but unable to sleep. Staring up, I focus on a patch in the ceiling that's illuminated by the hall light coming through the crack in the door. I think back to a stormy evening more than ten years ago.

My husband's nephews had a wrestling tournament in Union City, a town about thirty miles north of San Jose. Patrick and Richard left early in the morning for the tournament. Pat and Kevin had a function of their own in the morning, so they'd arranged to take my car and meet up with their dad and Rich later in the day. I stayed home to get housework done.

It was dreary and rainy; by early evening the wind had picked up and the rain was coming down in sheets. Our family room had flooded several years earlier, so I checked out the back window a few times to see if I needed to go outside to dig trenches. The ground was obviously absorbing the rain, so I went about my business. I walked into my bedroom to put some folded clothes in my dresser. When I switched on the light, I noticed dimples in my ceiling. "Oh, shit," I said under my breath. My husband had been putting a new roof on the house. I had forgotten he had not quite finished and had secured a section by covering it with a tarp. The wind must have blown the tarp off.

I dropped the clothes on my bed and raced outside to get the ladder. I rummaged around the shed trying to find it, but it wasn't there. I came back in the house and grabbed towels, a bucket, and a kitchen stool, which I positioned under the crawl-space door in the hallway. I managed to open the door, but the stool wasn't tall enough for me to be able to hoist myself up. I could hear the rain coming down harder and had visions of my ceiling caving in. Just as I started to panic, I heard the front door open.

"Hello! Can you believe this awesome rain?"

"Pat, is that you?! Where are Dad and your brothers?"

"They're still at the wrestling tournament. I have homework to finish." Pat looked down the hall and saw me standing on the stool. "Ma, what are you doing?"

"The roof is leaking. Look at the ceiling in my bedroom. See the dimples? The tarp blew off the roof, and I can't find the ladder."

Pat looked up at my ceiling. "Damn!" He ran out to the shed to locate the ladder. A few minutes later he yelled that he found it at the side of the house. I ran outside to find him on the roof securing the big blue tarp.

"Be careful!" I yelled as the wind whipped around.

With the tarp in place, Pat came in the house, threw off his jacket, and hoisted himself on the stool to look into the crawl space. Water that had come in through the exposed roof was still dripping from the soaked rafters and seeping into my ceiling. Standing on the stool, Pat took off his shoes and socks, threw them in the open bedroom door, and pulled himself up into the crawl space.

"Hand me the towels and bucket, Mom."

I held them up. Grabbing them, he disappeared into the dark space under the roof. I could hear him rumbling around trying to sop up water as I got more towels out of the linen cabinet.

"Mom, there's one spot that's leaking a lot. I'm going to put the bucket under if I can get to it. It's hard walking on these skinny ... holy shit!"

A thud came from above my bedroom. "Pat, are you all right?" I yelled as I ran into the room. I heard a thunderous laugh as I looked up to see a size-twelve bare foot sticking through a hole in my ceiling.

The memory is so vivid, I close my eyes with the hope of reliving it as I fall sleep. Waking up early, I put on some coffee. Richard and Michelle sleep until about ten. As they shower, I make breakfast. We sit around and talk for several hours while waiting for Kevin and Marie to get home. They pull up the driveway in a rented car at around two. We help them carry their things from the car, and I make them sandwiches that they hardly touch. We sit in the family room for an hour or so, deliberately avoiding the reason we are together.

But gradually, our talk leads Kevin to get a notepad. He crouches in front of my chair and begins to sketch a map of the region where Pat was killed. Richard and Michelle sit on the floor on either side of us. Marie stays curled up on the far end of the couch. Her flawless skin looks particularly pale as she stares distantly out the window, revealing her apprehension about listening to details the Ranger commander had reviewed three days earlier, details too painful to fully absorb.

Marie's fair and delicate beauty belies her quiet strength. For five weeks, with tremendous dignity, she has coped with Pat's death and struggled with the reality of facing life without him. As Pat's wife, the burden of making many painful decisions and dealing with overwhelming amounts of paperwork has fallen on her young shoulders. Watching her so bravely try to fathom the information she recently has been given fills me with sadness and pride.

Kevin starts his narrative by writing the date "April 21, 2004" on the bottom right corner of the paper. My stomach tightens with anxiety, anticipating what I am about to hear. Kevin then points to a circle he has drawn just above the date. He labels it "Magarah." He begins, weaving his own memories of what happened that day into his recollection of what Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bailey told him just days before. His and Pat's platoon, part of 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, had been ordered to conduct "clearing operations" -- essentially, sweeping villages for Taliban fighters -- in a region of southeastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. As they were getting ready to begin operations, one of their vehicles, a Humvee [1] mounted with a .50-caliber machine gun, wouldn't start. The unit mechanic determined that the vehicle needed a new fuel pump, and one was flown in by a supply helicopter. But the pump didn't solve the problem. Kevin's vehicle towed the Humvee using tow straps.

By the morning of April 22, the vehicle had been further disabled by being dragged around. The platoon stopped in a little village called Magarah and sat for nearly six hours while a decision was made about how to continue the mission.

Requests by the platoon leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, to airlift the vehicle out were denied. Because the vehicle was holding up the mission, a lot of the soldiers in the platoon kept saying, "Blow the bitch up," but the chain of command would not permit them to destroy it or leave it behind. It was decided that a local truck driver would tow the Humvee on the back of a jinga truck. [2]

Uthlaut received orders from a commander at the tactical operations center (TOC) in Khost, about sixty-five miles away, to proceed with their mission without further delay. He was told the commander wanted "boots on the ground" in Manah before dark. Because of the disabled vehicle, the only way to accomplish this was to split the platoon into two sections, Serial One and Serial Two. Serial One was supposed to go directly to the village of Manah and prepare for clearing operations. Serial Two was ordered to escort the disabled Humvee to a link-up point near the Khost highway to a village called Tit, where it would meet with a recovery team from Khost and drop off the Humvee with the maintenance team so they could fix it back at the forward operating base in Khost. Once Serial Two delivered the Humvee, it was to travel along a pre-determined route and link up with Serial One in the village of Manah.

Uthlaut vehemently objected to this plan. He didn't want to split his troops in dangerous terrain on the border of Pakistan and risk losing communication in the canyon. He also was concerned because he had only one .50-caliber machine gun, which meant one of the serials would be without a big gun. But he was told again that there must be no more delays.

There were six vehicles in Serial One. Pat was in the second vehicle. Serial One left Magarah about fifteen minutes ahead of Serial Two, which included Kevin. On the paper, Kevin draws a path showing the route Pat took with Serial One. Pat's serial headed west along a route that would take them through steep canyons and difficult terrain. Kevin's group took a northerly route to deliver the disabled Humvee to the drop off point. Kevin's vehicle was the last in a convoy of five, not including the disabled Humvee that was towed by the jinga truck. He watched the tail end of Pat's serial as it split west and disappeared into the canyon.

When Kevin's group, Serial Two started their movement, a Humvee was leading the convoy, followed by the jinga truck which was towing the disabled Humvee. But when the jinga driver realized he couldn't negotiate the intended route due to poor road conditions, the driver adamantly refused to continue along the planned route. It was decided by the Platoon Sergeant, the Serial Two would back track to the point where Serial One traveled into the canyon and pick up the same route.

As Serial Two re-adjusted their route, the lead Humvee also backed up and fell in behind the jinga truck, making the jinga truck and the disabled Humvee the lead vehicle for Serial Two. As the convoy entered the canyon, Kevin remembered looking at the canyon walls and thinking it was crazy to be taking this route in daylight, especially after they'd sat in Magarah for six hours, making their presence known to any enemy in the area. He remembered thinking they were going to get whacked.

Serial One moved through the canyon safely. It was supposed to take a left turn and head south to get to Manah, but the serial mistakenly turned right and headed north. The soldiers in Serial One quickly realized they made a wrong turn and stopped their movement and began to turn their vehicles around and get back on the right route. As Serial One started to re-adjust their vehicles, Serial Two, traveling along the same route, but minutes behind Serial One, came under attack by what soldiers thought were RPGs -- rocket-propelled grenades -- or mortar fire and small arms fire from the northern and southern ridgelines. At first they thought one of their vehicles had hit an IED -- improvised explosive device -- so they stopped and dismounted, as they were trained to do. Within seconds, they realized they were in an ambush. They quickly got back in their vehicles, started firing, and tried to maneuver out of the canyon. The MK-19 [3] on Kevin's vehicle failed to fire and his rifle also was jammed. He started shooting with his pistol. The situation was extremely confusing. Serial Two returned heavy volumes of fire. Soldiers were firing every weapon system to include their 60mm mortar and AT-4s. The canyon walls were high and made it difficult for the soldiers to fire at the enemy who occupied higher ground. Bullets were ricocheting everywhere. But at no time did anyone in Serial Two receive any injuries from enemy fire.

Back at the intersection, the Serial One soldiers heard the explosions and gunfire coming from the canyon. They immediately identified the machine gun fire as friendly forces. Lieutenant David Uthlaut attempted to contact Serial Two, but was not able to make contact. Everyone in Serial One was surprised to hear gun fire since they knew Serial Two was not supposed to be moving along the same route. They stopped their vehicles close to a cluster of houses near the road, and were ordered to dismount. A group of soldiers moved on foot past the houses. Pat moved to the eastern slope of the spur with Private Bryan O'Neal; an Afghan Militia Force (AMF) soldier followed them. Sergeant Matt Weeks and his squad moved on the west side of the tiny village. Uthlaut, the platoon leader, stayed by the village with his radio operator, Specialist Jade Lane, in an attempt to communicate with Serial Two.

Ordinarily, Pat would have been maneuvering with his squad leader, Sergeant Jeffrey Jackson, but Uthlaut assigned Jackson to Serial Two. Uthlaut was trying to compensate for the lack of the .50-caliber gun by giving Serial Two more men. Pat was acting as a team leader due to the circumstances. He noticed the enemy on the southern ridgeline. Because he had no radio, he ran across the crest to the ridge Sergeant Weeks was occupying. Pat asked Weeks if he could take off his body armor so he could move faster and assault the enemy. Weeks told Pat he could not remove his body armor, but he could assault the enemy. Pat ran back to his position to explain his plan to O'Neal and the AMF soldier.

In the meantime, Serial Two vehicles could not move forward because the jinga truck had stalled in the middle of the road. At some point Sergeant Greg Baker, the squad leader in charge of the lead Humvee, was able to get the stalled jinga truck out of the way so his driver and the other vehicles could get around it. Now positioned where the canyon road opened up, Baker got out of his vehicle. A crew member on the vehicle shouted, "Contact three o'clock!"

Baker saw the bearded Afghan soldier near Pat with an AK-47 [4] 200 to 250 meters away. It looked to Baker as though the Afghan was shooting at his vehicle. He shot him about eight times and watched him fall. The soldiers in the lead vehicle started shooting where their team leader had shot. Meanwhile, Serial One soldiers on the ridgeline were trying desperately to signal that they were friendlies. Pat and O'Neal, who were just several meters behind the fallen AMF soldier, frantically waved their arms and yelled, "Cease fire! Friendlies!" They tried to take cover behind two rocks that were being sprayed with machine-gun fire from the lead Humvee. Pat may have shot off a flare; he definitely threw a smoke grenade in an attempt to signal there were friendlies on the ridgeline.

After Pat threw the smoke, there was a lull in fire. Pat and O'Neal believed the shooters in the lead vehicle saw the smoke and recognized that friendlies were on the berm. They thought it was safe at this point and got out from behind the rocks. Pat came around the rock and started to head toward the enemy position when the soldiers in Baker's vehicle opened up their weapons again. O'Neal was able to take cover. Pat was shot in the legs and dropped to a squatting position, yelling "Cease fire! Friendlies! I'm Pat fucking Tillman!"

Seconds later, O'Neal heard pain in Pat's voice. The soldiers had opened up on Pat again. He was hit three times in the head.

Kevin pauses for a few seconds; he continues the story.

Baker's vehicle drove down the road shooting up the ridgeline and the houses. Uthlaut and Lane were hit with shrapnel -- Uthlaut in the face and Lane was shot in the knee. Kevin is now silent. His tired and glassy eyes stare into mine as he places the notepad with his diagrams in my hands. I gaze numbly at the "P" Kevin wrote on the paper, indicating Pat's final position. Gently, I run my fingers over it, as if by stroking it softly I'm able to soothe the horror of Pat's last moments of his life.

My son knew his own men were killing him.

I see Kevin's pained and helpless expression and wonder what images swim in his head and haunt him. The memory of Pat's face the last time he saw him? The sight of the last vehicle in Serial One fading into the canyon? The final view of a helicopter's silhouette as it lifted his brother's body into the Afghan sky?

Richard sits on the floor with his back against the wall, staring across the room. His face is pale and his eyes are bloodshot. I can see his defenses building. The anger he has carried the last five weeks is palpable. My heart sinks at the thought of what this new reality will do to him. I glance down at Michelle, who is sitting at my feet. Her face is stricken and also watchful of Richard's reaction. I see Marie's slender frame curled up on the couch, eyes dull and fixed on the floor.

The five of us sit quietly in our own thoughts for many minutes. Hesitantly, I ask Kevin how he was informed that Pat may have been killed by friendly fire. He tells us his platoon arrived at Fort Lewis from Afghanistan late Sunday or early Monday. The first time he saw anyone was Monday morning. He hadn't seen the men in his platoon since Pat was killed, and he had no idea at the time of Pat's death that he had been shot by a fellow Ranger. Kevin had been in the last vehicle of Serial Two, and by the time he reached the scene, no one was talking about fratricide. He didn't even know for about forty-five minutes that the soldier who was killed along with the Afghan was his brother. Then he was flown out shortly afterward to escort his brother's body home.

Kevin returned to Fort Lewis after Pat's memorial in early May. He was happy to see the soldiers from his platoon, particularly the guys from his and Pat's units, return home. "Those were the guys that served with Till," Kevin says, referring to Pat by the nickname he had given him in college. Kevin says he went through physical training exercises with his unit early Monday. At some point after that, Sergeant Baker walked up to Kevin and told him he had shot the AMF soldier in the chest. Kevin had no idea what Baker was talking about and looked at him blankly. Kevin knew an AMF soldier had died when Pat was killed, but he never heard the facts of the situation. It never occurred to him that the deaths of Pat and the AMF soldier were related. Baker must have seen from the look on Kevin's face that he was confused and walked away. Kevin found Baker's behavior a bit strange, but he didn't dwell on it.

A short time later, Kevin was approached by his squad leader, who told him to report to First Sergeant Thomas Fuller, whom Kevin hadn't seen since Pat was killed. Kevin assumed Fuller just wanted to see how he was coping with Pat's death; once seated in Fuller's office, however, Kevin got the sense he was called in for another reason.

Sergeant Fuller gently began to explain that Pat may have been killed by his own men. Kevin was stunned.

"That doesn't make any sense. Pat was shot by the enemy in the forehead running up a hill," he said, repeating the story the family had been told about Pat's death. "His own guys were behind him. It doesn't add up."

The sergeant patiently explained what he knew. He said there were numerous shells from a .50-caliber machine gun found all around the area where Pat's body was recovered. He told Kevin the Army was conducting an investigation to find out exactly what happened. He informed him that his Ranger commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bailey, would be talking to him the next day to give him more details.

Kevin thought the information he had just received was ridiculous. Pat couldn't have been killed by his own guys. Kevin left the sergeant's office and spent the rest of the day in a fog. Finally, it was time to go home. He would have to tell Marie what he had learned.

Kevin drove to the little sage-green house where he, Pat, and Marie had lived so contentedly, the house he and Marie would continue to share until his obligation to the military is over. Marie took the news stoically. It was difficult for her to comprehend or to see how it mattered; Pat wasn't coming back.

On Tuesday, Kevin was called in to talk to Lieutenant Colonel Bailey, who briefly reviewed the events surrounding Pat's death. The following day, Bailey made an official visit to Marie and Kevin's house, where he went into great detail describing what happened on April 22. Bailey told Kevin and Marie the media would be given no information until the rest of the family had been informed, and he indicated that he would be flying to San Jose over the coming weekend, Memorial Day weekend, to tell us the story.

By now it's about five. We are emotionally and physically exhausted. Marie has fallen asleep on the couch. Michelle places a pillow under her head as Rich covers her with a blanket. Kevin gets up when he hears a vehicle coming up the driveway. It's my brother Mike. We go outside to greet him, then Michelle and I go into the kitchen to prepare vegetables and salad. Kevin, Rich, and Mike get the barbecue ready. We let Marie rest until it's time to eat.

After dinner, Marie takes the rental car to her parents' house. She's going to spend the night there and return in the morning. Michelle and Rich go for a walk. Kevin and Mike sit at the table to drink coffee and talk politics while I wash and put away dishes. Once it's dark, all of us sit around the fire pit. Michelle and I quietly sip our wine. Mike listens gravely as Kevin tells him what he has learned about the day Pat died. When he is done, he sits back in his chair. Mike's stricken face peers into the dying fire.

"Jesus Christ," he says. "This is unbelievable!"

_______________

Notes:

1. HMMWV -- High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, used primarily for personnel and light cargo transport.

2. Also known as a jingle truck, a flatbed truck used for local towing.

3. A 40 mm grenade launcher or grenade machine gun.

4. A gas-operated assault rifle that can fire up to 600 rounds per minute.
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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:06 pm

Chapter 4

To betray, you must first belong.

-- HAROLD PHILBY


My eyes open just as the neighborhood roosters start their crowing. I tiptoe down the hall, trying not to wake anyone. As I walk gingerly into the kitchen, I see Kevin is asleep on the living room couch. Michelle and Richard are curled up inside sleeping bags on the family room floor, and Mike, with a pillow over his head, is crashed on the couch beside them. I pour coffee beans into the grinder but then realize I'll rouse everyone in the house if I turn it on, so I pull the plug from the socket and return to my bedroom to grind the coffee. Back in the kitchen, I look into the family room and see Michelle is lying on her back with her eyes wide open.

"Good morning," she whispers drowsily as she stretches and slips out of the sleeping bag.

"Good morning," I whisper back.

She pads up to the table in her stocking feet and sits down. Her blond hair is endearingly rumpled. She yawns, and her dark brown eyes water as she breaks into a smile.

"Did you sleep all right on the floor?" I ask quietly, knowing full well Michelle always has difficulty sleeping.

"Well, I slept okay once I got to sleep." Her smile widens.

I take two coffee mugs from the cupboard and sit with Michelle to wait for the coffee to finish dripping. We chat quietly for an hour or so as Mike, Kevin, and Rich reluctantly get up and take turns in the shower. I make French toast for everyone as Kevin and Rich get ready to leave for their dad's house. They're going to meet Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bailey at Patrick's house so Bailey can present the information to them before he comes to see me. Kevin and Rich drive off at about eight thirty. Bailey won't be at Patrick's for several hours, but Kevin wants to prepare his father for some of the details he will hear.

Michelle and I clear the breakfast dishes and get showered and dressed. Marie pulls up in the driveway around noon, and Mike, Michelle, Marie, and I sit in the yard, talking and nervously awaiting the Ranger commander's arrival. Several hours later, the phone rings. Kevin is calling to tell me Richard is riding to my house with the colonel in his rental car. Kevin says he's going to sit with his dad for a while to make sure he deals all right with all he has had to absorb.

Within twenty minutes, Colonel Bailey and Richard pull up. Bailey emerges from the driver's side, a tall, fit man wearing a uniform. He greets Marie, and she introduces him to the rest of us. He graciously shakes our hands and expresses condolences. Handsome and fair-haired, with striking blue eyes, the colonel must be in his late forties but looks much younger.

Seated at the dining table, Colonel Bailey looks me in the eye and apologizes for the way we had to learn of Pat's death. He tells me he had investigated the area where Pat was killed the day after his death and was pretty certain Pat had been killed by his own men. No one from the Army had said anything about this to us because they wanted to conduct an investigation first. I think his explanation is a bit odd -- why couldn't they have done both? -- but I don't say anything. I tell him that Kevin already has given us a detailed description of what took place, so we have an idea of what to expect.

We make small talk for several minutes, waiting for Kevin to arrive from his dad's. But then we decide Bailey should begin. He asks for a piece of paper; I take several from my printer and hand them to him. Although I absorbed every detail of Kevin's presentation, my stomach constricts in anticipation of information I'm afraid to hear.

Bailey draws a map identical to the one Kevin drew for us. He explains the platoon's mission, the problem with the Humvee, and how the platoon had stopped in Magarah. I ask him pointedly why the platoon had to drag a broken vehicle through such a dangerous region.

"Couldn't it have been run off the road? Couldn't it have been destroyed?" I ask. "Kevin said a lot of the soldiers believed it should have been blown up."

The colonel stares at me.

"Ma'am, they couldn't leave the vehicle. Locals could get on the vehicle and take pictures. The pictures could then be used for propaganda purposes, which wouldn't look good."

I can't believe what I'm hearing. "Pictures of local Afghans in U.S. vehicles don't look good, but killing two men and wounding two others is acceptable? That doesn't make any sense," I tell him.

He looks at me without responding.

"Why couldn't it have been destroyed?" I ask in frustration. "Couldn't they have blown it up? It was a $50,000 vehicle; that's nothing."

"That goes against Army policy, ma'am," he says, looking at me as if I'm crazy to even consider destroying the vehicle an option. He said the platoon leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, radioed the commander in Khost and asked if the Humvee could be lifted out by air, but his request was refused. It appears that the MH-47 helicopters [1] -- which could do the job -- were not available.

Kevin quietly comes in and sits at the end of the table. Bailey explains, as Kevin had, that a fuel pump was flown in but didn't fix the vehicle, so a local truck driver was hired to evacuate it with his flatbed truck. He tells us that Uthlaut had no direct order to split his platoon but did so because the chain of command in Khost wanted "boots on the ground" in Manah, a village on the other side of the canyon, by dusk, and he wanted no further delay. Bailey reiterates that Uthlaut aggressively objected to being placed in a position to have to split his men into two sections, for the reasons Kevin stated. But his protests were futile.

I am appalled at what I hear. I look across the table at my brother; his face is somber. My gaze turns back to Bailey. "Why wouldn't the officers in Khost listen to the officer in the field? He is the one who best knows the situation. If he was protesting his predicament, why wouldn't they respect his concerns?"

Bailey explains that Uthlaut had misunderstood his orders, which were not to have his troops in Manah by dusk but rather by dawn, a crucial difference. The commander in Khost didn't realize Uthlaut thought he had heard "dusk" and not "dawn."

I feel myself becoming incensed.

"That makes no sense at all!" I say harshly. "He was concerned about moving during daylight, yet he never specifically questioned the time to get clarification? Wouldn't he logically say to his superiors that he doesn't want to move before dark? What about military time? Kevin and Pat referred to military time when they talked about going to breakfast. Why weren't they using military time?"

I feel myself wanting to cry, but I hold back the tears.

Bailey says he doesn't know how the misunderstanding occurred, then tells us there was a doctor in the village of Magarah who passed a note to one of the soldiers during their long wait. He says no one knows what the note said and no one followed up on it. Some of the soldiers were angry that the note wasn't investigated, as they believe it could have been a warning of some kind.

Kevin, Marie, and Richard look numb. They have heard this before and have nothing to say. Mike and Michelle are obviously taken aback. I feel like I am going to burst out of my skin. How could there be so much incompetence? These are Rangers. I thought they were so well trained. I want to scream, but I contain myself and allow the colonel to continue.

Mike, as if reading my mind, tells Bailey that he had real fears about Pat and Kevin being in the regular Army but believed the Rangers to be better trained. He asks, "How could everyone be so inept?" Bailey says he doesn't know everything that went on between Uthlaut and CENTCOM. [2]

"CENTCOM?" Mike says, looking astonished. "You mean Florida?" Colonel Bailey stares at Mike, who looks at me with a furrowed brow. Clearly, he assumes, as I do, that Bailey's lack of response means orders had come from Florida. My head starts to pound; I look desperately around the table to see if everyone is as outraged as I am. Kevin and Mike's eyes are fixed on Bailey as if their intent looks will move him to explain. Marie looks at me, dismayed. Richard gets up from the table, and Michelle watches apprehensively as he walks out the door.

It's unconscionable that commanders in Khost, sixty-five miles away from the situation, were passing along orders originating half a world away while disregarding the concerns of the field officer. Bailey continues with his explanation of the chain of events, how the serial was split and how Uthlaut felt such a sense of urgency that he did not think he had time to inform the whole platoon of what was happening, so he gathered his sergeants to let them know the plan. Most of the soldiers had no idea where they were going or what they were supposed to do.

Bailey stops talking as Richard returns to the table. He can see that Richard is trying to suppress his agitation. Kevin goes to the kitchen to get several bottles of water out of the refrigerator. He places them on the table. Bailey thanks Kevin as he opens a bottle and takes a drink. He seems to appreciate Kevin's gesture, which defuses the tension a bit. He then continues with the account, describing, as Kevin had done, how Serial One got through the canyon just about the time the jinga truck driver, towing the disabled Humvee, realized he could not maneuver up the northern road to Tit. Soon after that, explosions and gunfire were heard from the canyon.

My brother interrupts, "Did anyone question the jinga truck driver? Maybe he was involved."

"We took him in and questioned him," Bailey responds. "He didn't have any involvement."

Bailey goes into detail about how Pat ran up the hill with Private Bryan O'Neal and the Afghan Militia Force soldier. Bailey thinks the Afghan was just following Pat. He tells us O'Neal was frightened by the mortars, the gunfire, and the chaos. Pat had to calm down O'Neal, who was only eighteen years old. Pat positioned him near a rock and told him where to shoot. Bailey repeats what Kevin told us about how Pat tried to drop his protective gear and improve his position and how Sergeant Greg Baker, standing outside his Humvee, shot the Afghan in the chest, killing him.

Bailey pauses, turns, and looks directly at me. His expression appears pained. He tells us that when he questioned Baker about killing the AMF soldier, Baker told him, "He was just a haji," an offensively negative term for an Afghan. He tells us he was appalled at Baker's callous and bigoted remark.

Bailey explains that the Afghan soldier was shooting upward, toward the enemy across the road, so that Baker's vehicle might have passed safely. "Regrettably, from Baker's angle, it appeared as though the Afghan was firing at them," he says. He adds that Baker's vehicle was not taking fire from anyone at this point, and he is uncertain why they behaved as they did. We are dumbstruck by the lack of communication, the misunderstandings, and the blunders.

Calmly, I say, "You said the Afghan soldier was one hundred meters away; you can see a person one hundred meters away easily, especially if he is on elevated ground. We have a ridge behind this house. I could identify the boys at one hundred meters when they would play up there as kids. Was it too dark?"

Bailey explains that it wasn't dark. He reminds us he walked the site of Pat's death twenty-four hours after it occurred, and the light conditions were the best of the day because there were no shadows. He says the distance may have been two hundred meters; he can't be sure.

"Didn't you measure the distance?" I say, my distress growing.

"No, ma'am," he says. "Actually, the distance was anywhere from one hundred to two hundred and fifty meters."

"Don't you know? You're a colonel in the Rangers! You were conducting an investigation!"

Looking annoyed, Bailey waits to see if I have anything else to say. Without responding to my comment, he continues to explain what happened after the Afghan soldier was shot and how the soldiers in Baker's vehicle started firing on the ridgeline where the soldiers were waving their arms and yelling, "Cease fire! Friendlies! Cease fire!"

He discusses how a barrage of bullets came at Pat and O'Neal as they crouched behind the rocks, bullets and shrapnel flying. Although Pat waved his arms and kept yelling, "Friendlies! Cease fire!" the soldiers in the vehicle were unable to hear because of all the gunfire. Pat managed to throw a grenade that produced purple smoke, a feat Bailey says was remarkable under such intense fire. He tells us Pat did everything he should have done and more. Bailey says he found the residue of a flare as well, but he wasn't sure if Pat set it off.

Seconds after Pat threw the grenade, the firing stopped. Believing the soldiers in the vehicle recognized the smoke, Pat and O'Neal got up, and Pat came out from behind the rock to run up the hill toward the enemy. Again, the guns from the vehicle started firing. Pat again was yelling, "Cease fire, friendlies! Cease fire! I'm Pat fucking Tillman, damn it!"

I look at Bailey through tear-filled eyes, and my body starts to shudder. Bailey pauses, gauges our reactions, and then continues: Pat was hit in the legs and fell in a crouched position. There was another lull in fire. O'Neal could hear Pat trying to speak. The soldiers in the vehicle suddenly opened up again as they drove down the road, shooting at the houses in the village, hitting the radio operator and Uthlaut before coming to a halt.

O'Neal heard what sounded like running water coming from the rock, and then he realized he was covered in blood.

Pat had been shot three times in the head. Kevin had already gone over the last moments of Pat's life. I knew what to expect. Yet the details, coming from Lieutenant Colonel Bailey, are utterly jarring.

For several minutes we sit, unable to speak, then Richard and Michelle get up and go to the kitchen to make coffee. Colonel Bailey drinks the rest of his water and looks warily at Kevin, Mike, and me. Marie returns to the table and sits down. I feel sick thinking about what this is doing to her.

Appearing uncomfortable, the colonel begins to tell us that Uthlaut was hit in the face with shrapnel, and the radio operator was hit in the knee. He says he thinks they were hit as the vehicle drove past the houses just before stopping. However, he says, it's possible they were shot while the vehicle was stopped in front of Pat's position. Further questions will have to be asked. He said Uthlaut was devastated by Pat's death and felt responsible.

"Why?" I ask. "He protested the splitting of the troops. It seems like his superiors are more to blame. What about the soldiers in the vehicle? Are they going to be punished? No one was firing at them. They killed Pat and another man and wounded two more of their own, and no one was firing at them!"

"Ma'am, I'm sorry," he says gently.

"Why didn't the soldiers stop firing when they saw the smoke Pat threw?"

"They didn't see the smoke," he tells me.

"Why was there a lull in fire?"

"Ma'am, I believe they were reloading their weapons."

"You mean they reloaded and started firing without looking at who they were shooting! Are you kidding?" Tears start to run down my face, and I try to keep myself from shaking.

Bailey looks close to tears himself. He says he thinks that's what they were doing, but we will have to wait for the official report to be certain what happened. Again, he tells us he's sorry.

I look Bailey in the eye. "Colonel, what would you want your wife to do if this happened to you?"

He is taken off guard by the question. He tells me he would expect her to realize mistakes happen in battle. There was a lot of confusion. Bailey says that in his view, Uthlaut should have had more control of the situation, even though he admits the lieutenant determinedly tried to prevent splitting the troops. He says he is disgusted with Sergeant Baker, who, in his mind, is very much to blame. He was in charge of that vehicle, and he allowed his men to lose control. Sergeant Baker told him he had tunnel vision when he shot the Afghan soldier, but he can't really explain what happened. Several soldiers, he says, may be punished, but Baker is most culpable. Bailey is adamant that he will make sure the people responsible for Pat's death are punished.

He then remarks that a lot of mistakes were made and that he told the platoon that everyone must take responsibility for what happened. Mike and I both see the confused and injured expression on Kevin's face. I shoot an indignant look at Bailey. I know what he was trying to do by telling his soldiers they are all accountable; he doesn't want to assign blame and cause enmity. But it's ludicrous to blame everyone. I remind him, "Five vehicles of soldiers weren't even out of the canyon when this happened, and the soldiers on the ridgeline were getting shot at by men they were trying to save. How is it their fault?"

"Yes, ma'am," he says, not wanting to upset me further.

"Was anything accomplished on this mission?" my brother asks, in part to break the tension. "Were any enemy killed? We read an Associated Press story about Pat's death by a reporter in Afghanistan which said that nine enemy were killed."

"No, sir," Bailey responds. He tells us a few Afghan men were picked up in Manah, but they turned out to be insignificant to the incident. He also admits there was faulty intelligence, along with a false sense of urgency.

My heart sinks and my stomach feels sick. Words get caught in my throat and I look down at the table.

"Are there going to be any changes in training procedures because of this incident?" Mike says.

Marie and I make it clear to the colonel how important it is that nothing like this happens again.

"Yes," Bailey says earnestly. He indicates that they will use the situation in training soldiers to prevent the same kind of accident. He stands up from the table and tells us again how very sorry he is that Pat was killed in such a senseless manner and says he takes full responsibility as the battalion commander. He says we will get more information with the official report in several weeks.

I gather myself and stand up.

"You know," he says, "I liked Pat." He tells us that he got to know him a little when he went to Pat for advice about an injured ankle; Pat, who was familiar with sports injuries to ankles, was very helpful.

Staring out the window, as if in a trance, I say, "He was an amazing person."

We all start drifting around the room as the colonel prepares to leave.

"Do you mind if I change into my civilian clothes?" he asks.

"No, that's fine," Kevin tells him. He walks him to his car to get his duffel bag, and then shows him to one of the bedrooms.

After more than three hours in the house, it's getting claustrophobic. We go out into the front yard to wait for the colonel to change out of his uniform. The day is warm, and the air is clear and fragrant. I wonder how the day can be so beautiful when Pat is gone.

Richard and Mike are smoking by the elm tree. Marie, Kevin, and Michelle stand in a huddle and talk. After a few minutes, Bailey comes out of the house. He looks very different out of uniform, a bit younger and less serious. We thank him for coming out and taking so much time with us. After shaking our hands, he gets into his car. Richard guides him as he backs out of our driveway, turns around, and heads down the road. We wave as he leaves.

For several minutes we stand around and stare at each other, not knowing what to say, afraid to say anything. Finally, cautiously and cynically, Mike says, "If that was an unofficial visit, why was he wearing his uniform? I think it's strange."

"I'll tell you something more strange," Richard says, lifting his face as he blows cigarette smoke out the corner of his mouth. "After listening to this bullshit at Dad's, I said to Bailey on the way here, 'I don't care what anyone says, I think my brother was fucking murdered.'''

Kevin looks at Richard and asks apprehensively, "What did he say?"

Our eyes shift back and forth, ready to weigh each other's reactions. "He said, 'You may be right.'''

_______________

Notes:

1. A long-distance, heavy-lift helicopter.

2. One of nine commands in the Department of Defense, the central command (CENTCOM) oversees operations in twenty-five countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq. It is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:07 pm

Chapter 5



It seems like months since Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bailey came to my house, but it has only been seventeen days. As Pat's father, my brother Mike, and I board the plane to Seattle to hear the official briefing on Pat's death, I momentarily feel badly that I won't be attending the graduation of my eighth graders. Many of them appeared disappointed that I wouldn't be there. However, it's for the best. Since Pat's death, I've been in a constant state of anxiety; I would never be able to sit through a ceremony.

Seated by the window, I look through the thick glass and watch the luggage being loaded on the plane. A heavy feeling comes over me, followed by a wave of nausea as I realize the last time I boarded a plane to Seattle was just before Pat and Kevin were deployed to Afghanistan. I continue to stare out the window, trying to stifle the tears that are welling in my eyes. I'm grateful Mike and Patrick are talking and don't notice my state of mind. If one of them were to say something, I would crumble. The plane takes off, and I try to blow my nose discreetly. Mike glances over at me with a knowing look.

What would I do without my brother? Mike has always been so supportive of all three of his nephews and me. He was sixteen when Pat was born; they were very close. Mike helped look after Pat when he was a baby. As Pat got older, Mike watched movies and played soccer, baseball, basketball, and football with him. As the proud uncle, he cheered Pat on through high school, college, and professional football games. He and Pat shared an interest in history, politics, and economics and a love of arguing over all three. They also shared a sense of humor and an earnest quality I rarely have seen.

Pat's death has taken a toll on Mike. The evening Pat was killed, I wanted him to know right away, but it took nearly an hour for my neighbor Peggy to reach him. He was at his job at United Airlines in San Francisco, where he works in maintenance. Peggy couldn't reach him on his cell phone, so she called United and asked for Mike Spalding. "Mike" is actually his middle name, and there was no Mike Spalding there. I told her to use his first name, Stephen. She finally called United's security department to find him. Once his department was reached, an announcement echoed over the intercom:

"Stephen Spalding! Call security!"

Mike told me that as soon as he heard the shrill announcement, his gut tightened. He knew something was wrong; he had never given the phone number of security to anyone. He called security.

"You'll have to hang up the phone, and I'll call you back to connect you with the caller," said the voice on the line.

"Hang up the phone! What's happened?" He hung up, the phone rang, and he grabbed it.

"Hello, Mike. Mike, this is Peggy." Her voice sounded shaky. "Go to Dannie's right away!"

"Peggy, what happened to Dannie?" There was silence on the other end.

"Peggy, what's happened to Dannie!" he yelled.

"Nothing has happened to Dannie," she said delicately. "We lost Pat today."

Immediately, he felt hollowed out. ''I'm on my way," he stammered. He robotically clocked out and walked to his truck. What he had learned was too big for tears. All he was thinking was that he had to get to my house. He could only imagine what I was going through, and he feared for me.

On the freeway, it was forty miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic. As Mike finally broke free, his anxiety and impatience increased. He was desperate to reach me. Finally, he drove the last sixty yards up my driveway. By then it was dark. Two figures stood in the shadows by the front stoop. He walked past them, as if in a trance. I was seated on the couch in my living room. Any doubts he may have had about the reality of what happened dissipated the instant I looked up at him. My eyes were faraway, lost in grief, and my face was red, swollen, and streaked with tears. I got up as if in slow motion and hugged him.

"Pat's dead, Mike," I said softly and I started to cry.

Holding me tightly, he said, "I know."

Tears are now running down my cheeks. I quickly wipe them away. The memory of that night is unbearable, and I try to erase it from my thoughts. I look over at Mike, and he and Patrick are reading. I see the flight attendant approaching. She's taking drink orders from a young couple across the aisle. They have a little boy, blond, about four or five years old. Seeing him saddens me, and I look away. I start rummaging through my bag for my book as the flight attendant asks me for my drink order. I tell her as I open my book to begin reading.

When she returns with our drinks, my eye once again catches a glimpse of the fair-haired little boy. His hair is the same shade Pat's was at that age. He's a cute little fellow but very fragile looking. Pat was sturdy and muscular, even at four. He always seemed older than his chronological age, always wanting to push himself, to move on to the next level. Pat was especially excited about starting school. He was four years old when he began kindergarten. A week before Pat's first day, I still wasn't ready for him to go. He hadn't attended a preschool other than one brief but disastrous stint at age two and a half, when several of my friends convinced me that he should go to preschool to be around other children his age. They told me I was being selfish to keep him home with me.

I located the Winnie the Pooh School, which was close to my husband's job, and arranged for Pat to go for three hours a day, three days a week. I dropped him off after I drove Patrick to work, then I took Kevin to a park nearby until it was time to pick up Pat. On school mornings, I would leave him in the brightly colored classroom wearing his little green backpack that held his morning snack, and I'd drive away in tears; three hours later I would return to find him sitting on the lap of a teacher or assistant, looking miserable and trying desperately to hold back sobs. Two weeks of that was quite enough. Neither Pat nor I was ready for him to be a student.

When he was about to enter kindergarten, I had nightmares that when the school bus driver brought him home, someone would kidnap him before I got to the end of the driveway. I feared he would like school better than home. I feared I was sending him too soon. After all, he had a November birthday; he was going to be young in his class. Maybe he wasn't ready. Never mind that he'd had his new backpack loaded and ready to go for a month, and he was proudly and boastfully telling anyone who would listen that he was starting school; I was convinced I was making a horrible mistake.

The first day of school I made French toast, the boys' favorite breakfast, and Pat's dad took pictures of him standing in front of the house in his brand-new school clothes. After Pat strapped on his backpack, the whole family piled into the car to take him to his first day at Graystone Elementary School in San Jose. We walked him to a busy and bright classroom full of four- and five-year-olds and left him in the care of a warm and down-to-earth teacher named Sue Gutierrez.

As I walked out the door, I turned to take one last look at him. He had a big grin on his face as he waved a confident good-bye. My husband drove Kevin, Richard, and me home before heading to work and, with an understanding smile, asked if I was going to make it. Tearfully, I chuckled and told him I guessed I would live.

After that first day, Pat took the school bus. It stopped right at the foot of our driveway. Kevin, Richard, and I waited with him and waved as the bus pulled away; it went to the end of the road and turned around, and we waved again as it passed.

Pat was very happy and confident the first three or four weeks of school, but then I noticed a gradual change in his attitude; something was bothering him. I sat him down one afternoon and asked him what was wrong.

"I'm dumb," he said. "All the other kids can read and I can't. No one wants me in their reading group. Why didn't you teach me to read?" I had made sure he knew the alphabet, learned his colors, and could count to twenty-five, but I hadn't taught him to read. I was horrified. I should have taught him to read. I should have left him in the Winnie the Pooh School. All the other kids had gone to preschool while I kept him home to play. Now I was paying the price.

With earnest brown eyes, my four-year-old son bore a hole right through me because I had failed to prepare him for kindergarten. The following morning, I went to school to talk to Mrs. Gutierrez. I told her what Pat had told me, and she smiled. She said a number of the children weren't able to read; Pat wasn't the only one. But he wanted to be in the highest reading group, and some of those kids told him he couldn't read, so he couldn't be with them. My heart sank. I had set my son up to be an outcast. Mrs. Gutierrez could see that I was feeling responsible for Pat's first academic failure, and she told me I shouldn't worry -- most children read at the same level by second grade anyway. I walked away feeling somewhat better. Pat, however, was not as easily assured.

***

"Dan. Hey, Dan!"

I look up to see Patrick eyeing me curiously.

"Dan, put your tray table up."

"Oh, okay," I say, startled to see that we are already landing.

We step off the plane. Walking through the Seattle airport makes me queasy. We pass an area where Patrick, Richard, Marie, and I stood on Thanksgiving morning, seven months ago, waiting for Pat and Kevin to arrive home from Ranger School. We were so excited to see them. They'd been away for three months, and we were allowed no communication. Closing my eyes, I can picture the two of them walking hurriedly up the airport corridor to the lobby in their Army uniforms, big grins on their faces, proud of having earned their Ranger tabs and thrilled to be home.

I can see the delighted and amused look on Pat's face when he saw Marie, usually so conservatively dressed, wearing her new, retro pink-and-brown plaid coat with the pink fur collar. The blush on her cheeks and a wide dimpled smile conveyed her joy at seeing him far more expressively than words. A rascally grin formed on Kevin's face, and his blue eyes lit up as he caught sight of Richard, who was standing tall and proud and smiling in satisfaction at them.

I feel a firm hand on my back. I look up into Patrick's sad and bloodshot eyes. He knows the image I have conjured; he gently pushes me along so we can both flee the memory.

Patrick rents a car for the hour-and-a-half drive south to University Place, a little town outside Tacoma. I feel dread mount in my stomach as we turn the corner to the charming house where Pat lived with Marie and Kevin. Pat had loved that house, situated on a hill overlooking the Tacoma Narrows, with a majestic view of the Olympic Mountains. I immediately glance at the spot where I last saw Pat standing, less than three months ago, as he and Kevin waved good-bye to their father and me as we drove away.

We park the car and grab our sparse luggage from the trunk. Kevin greets us as we walk up the stairs to the front porch. He's with a family friend, Tony Doran, who has been visiting for several days. Kevin tells us Marie is still at work at an employment agency but will be home soon. We follow him into the house.

In the entry are two very large boxes. Intuitively, I know they hold Pat's belongings, recently shipped from Afghanistan. I swallow hard as I walk past them and into the front room. Everywhere I look in this house, I'm staggered by memories. I see Pat in every corner and in every doorway. Kevin watches me with moist eyes as I apprehensively look around. All of a sudden, I notice something that makes me smile and my eyes fill with tears of warmth and affection. On a metal easel next to the television hutch is a white board. Written on it is the phrase "Word of the Week," and below that, "acrimony," meaning "bitterness of temper." I look at Kevin and smile.

"Remember, Mom, Pat always said he wanted to put up a whiteboard and have words of the week like you do in your classroom, but he never got around to it. Marie and I decided it was time, and acrimonious is how we feel," he says with a weak smile.

"I think it's great that you and Marie carried out Pat's idea." With a wink I tell him, "Acrimony is the perfect Word of the Week." We both laugh.

Kevin and Tony lead Mike and Patrick into the kitchen to get beers, and then they all walk out to the front porch. I stay in the house to look at Pat's books on the shelves and appreciate his special keepsakes displayed in the dining room hutch. As I'm looking at the mementos, I find a small newspaper clipping I've seen before. The article is about Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old peace activist from Olympia, Washington, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, trying to protect the home of a Palestinian doctor and his family.

I remember picking up the article from the same spot more than a year ago and asking Pat, "Who's this?"

"That's my hero," Pat said. "She was a stud; she had a lot of guts."

I read the article with tears in my eyes then; now, I quietly cry.

Marie's car pulls up in the driveway, and we all greet her as she walks to the porch. We sit and talk for about an hour, and then we leave to get something to eat. Most of the evening is spent in light conversation. We go to bed early to be ready for the official briefing the next day.

Kevin has to go to work before our meeting. The rest of us head for Gig Harbor, across the narrows, to kill a few hours. I love Gig Harbor, but I'm nervous as we approach the waterfront town. The last time I was here I was with Pat, Kevin, and their dad, weeks before Pat was killed. We park the car, then look at the boats docked in the harbor and wander around in several antique shops and boutiques.

I swallow hard and brush back tears as we pass by No Dearth of Books. I remember so vividly the smell of musty pages and the cramped yet cozy feeling of the one-room bookstore. Pat was wearing jeans and a blue plaid shirt. He walked around the small room closely examining the used books displayed on the center tables and ceiling-high shelves. I watched him and Kevin as they spoke so respectfully and with such interest to an old gentleman who sat at a desk by the window, surrounded by aged books and periodicals waiting to be shelved.

I remember suddenly being gripped by a feeling of absolute dread as I watched the soft and earnest expression on Pat's face. There appeared to be an unsettling aura around him. I was so shaken by it that I left the bookstore and waited outside. Minutes later, Pat, Kevin, and Patrick came out of the store, and we started walking down the street to the car. Pat glanced in the bag he was carrying and took out the receipt to look at it. His eyes widened and he appeared distressed. He turned and started running back to the store. Kevin called out, "Where are you going?"

"We didn't pay for one of the books. I have to run back and pay the old guy!" Pat yelled back.

"Pat, it's okay," Kevin said loudly. "I paid for my book separately. We paid for all the books."

Pat stopped, then slowly walked back toward us, rechecking his receipt; he compared it with the one Kevin held in his hand. Relief spread across his face, and then he broke into a smile that revealed his embarrassment. I recall being very touched by his concern, but I felt something else -- paralyzing fear for Pat.

***

"Dannie," Tony says, pulling me from my thoughts, "you all right?" I look up and see everyone looking at me.

"Yes, I'm fine. Can we get some coffee?"

After stopping at the nearest coffee shop, we return to the house and receive a call from Kevin that the meeting has been pushed back a few hours. Kevin comes home to wait with us. Tony leaves for the airport, and the rest of us drive to the Army base at Fort Lewis. We're all very quiet. I stare out the window, recalling the times I drove this route with Pat and Kevin. I glance at Kevin, then at Marie, wondering if they are having similar thoughts.

As we pass by a wooded area, I recall a story Pat and Kevin told me about the last time they drove this route before being deployed, when they saw two raccoons at the side of the road. One had been hit; the other hovered mournfully over his dead companion. Kevin told me the sad little buddy made eye contact with them as they passed. Pat and Kevin looked at each other; both were very unsettled by the experience.

When we arrive, Kevin escorts us into the headquarters of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Regiment. Lieutenant Colonel Bailey greets us and introduces us to Colonel James C. Nixon, the regimental commander. They lead us to a large room, where we're met by about twenty soldiers of various ranks. We're introduced to several of them and then seated at a large table at the corner of the room situated in front of a screen. The soldiers sit on chairs that have been set up several feet behind us. It's clear they will be listening to the presentation, but I wonder why.

Colonel Bailey stands in front of the screen, facing us, and Colonel Nixon sits at the head of the table. In front of each of us is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation we're to be shown. My ex-husband asks Bailey where the narrative report is. Bailey tells him it's not ready to be distributed. Patrick, who asked weeks ago if he could have the report in advance, is clearly angry that it is still not ready.

Bailey begins his presentation by admitting that he made some errors in his earlier briefings to us. He tells us that Sergeant Greg Baker actually did not get out of the vehicle. In fact, he said, the vehicle never stopped. He said the vehicle came out of the canyon, and Baker saw the Afghan soldier in a prone position, not standing, and, thinking he was the enemy, shot him in the chest eight times. The other soldiers, following the lead of their officer, fired up the ridgeline, killing Pat and wounding Lieutenant David Uthlaut and the radio operator Jade Lane.

This makes absolutely no sense. How could a man in a prone position get shot in the chest eight times? We are astounded by this information, but we let Bailey continue. He tells us that visibility was not as good as he had thought originally. Patrick reminds him that he told us he walked the site of Pat's death at the same time of day Pat was killed and had said light conditions were good. Bailey looks my ex-husband in the eye and tells him the soldiers who were present at the time told him visibility was poor.

We all look around uncomfortably at each other. Something isn't right about this. Bailey doesn't even seem to be the same person. His demeanor has changed completely from the last time we saw him. At my house, he appeared genuinely disturbed by Pat's death, and his briefing, although upsetting and full of unsettling details, seemed to be presented with sincerity. Now he seems haughty, superior, and disingenuous.

He puts an image on the screen of the site where Pat died, which very much upsets Marie. She says under her breath she hates that Pat has been reduced to a PowerPoint presentation. Her face and lips are white, and I worry about her sitting through the whole briefing.

Bailey points out illustrations of vehicles placed where he believes they were positioned during the shooting. The vehicles look like Tonka trucks and are not at all to scale.

"Why do you have drawings of vehicles?" I ask. "Why didn't you position real vehicles there so things could be seen to scale?"

"Ma'am, we didn't have the vehicles. It was too dangerous to use real vehicles."

"How did you get there?" I ask. "Didn't you have a vehicle?"

"I was flown in," he says, and quickly changes the subject.

We are confused about the changes in the story. We don't understand how, two weeks ago, Bailey was so sure that Baker was out of the vehicle, shooting a standing Afghan, and now he's telling us that the shooters drove by without stopping and Bailey shot a prone AMF in the chest. Kevin looks dumbfounded and helpless. These are his superior officers, and he is suspicious that they are lying about his brother's death. My brother asks Bailey how much time had elapsed from the time the AMF was shot to when Pat was killed. Nixon tells Mike they were shot simultaneously. He talks about how chaotic and confusing it was and compares the situation to the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan. I look at him in disbelief.

"What about the lull in fire?" Mike says. "Lieutenant Colonel Bailey told us there was a lull. Pat wouldn't come out from behind the rock while they were shooting."

Bailey stares at my brother and says he was mistaken; there was not a lull in fire.

"But you said there was a lull in fire because the soldiers were reloading," I remind him.

"I was mistaken, ma'am," he says, looking at me as if to dare me to dispute his words.

"I still don't understand why they didn't see the purple smoke," Patrick says.

"We thought the smoke was purple, but it was actually white. The soldiers thought the smoke was dust stirred up from bullets hitting the dirt."

Again, we look at each other in disbelief.

"By the way," Bailey says, "I suggested earlier that Pat may have released a flare, but we think it was actually Sergeant Weeks who did that."

"I still don't see how the soldiers could have missed the smoke, no matter what color it was," I say. "I've seen that smoke; it was used at the ceremony during boot camp graduation. It's like theatrical smoke. You can't miss it."

"Yes," Nixon says, "that's what it looks like."

"Well then, how could it have been mistaken for flying dirt?"

Both Bailey and Nixon stare at me. Neither one attempts to respond. I change the subject.

"Why were orders to split the troops coming from Florida?"

"There were no orders given from Florida, ma'am," Bailey tells me in a patronizing tone. I'm beginning to hate being called ma'am. I hear it as an insult.

"When my brother asked you at my house if by CENTCOM you meant the Florida headquarters, you didn't disagree."

"Yes, when I questioned if CENTCOM meant Florida, you remained silent as if to confirm my belief," Mike says.

Bailey, once again, makes use of his steely stare and tells us CENTCOM is in Salerno, in Khost. Mike and I look at each other. We are at a loss as to what to say.

Patrick then tells Bailey and Nixon that Pat did not earn the Silver Star. We are all silent, taken aback by his words. Kevin and Mike look at him, stunned. Marie, jolted by his statement, quietly walks out of the room.

I become furious at his words. I know Pat was heroic. The fact that he was a victim of fratricide and by definition should not get a Silver Star doesn't mean he wasn't brave. I'm angry at the way my ex-husband has worded his statement, as if Pat was to blame.

Colonel Nixon tells Patrick that he has several Silver Stars, and Pat was far more heroic than he had ever been.

"Pat did what any other Ranger would do," Patrick says.

"I think what he means is that you made Pat's Silver Star suspect because you awarded it knowing he may have been killed by friendly fire. That award isn't usually given to victims of fratricide, is it?" I ask.

"Pat was very heroic out there," Nixon says. "He did everything he was supposed to do."

Marie comes back in the room. I don't want her to hear any more of this talk.

"When are families supposed to be informed that their soldier was killed by friendly fire? You were all pretty certain from the beginning that he was killed by his own men," I tell him.

Bailey says, "Ma'am, we suspected he may have been killed by friendly-fire, but we wanted to investigate before we said anything and gave the wrong information."

"Colonel, we were given the wrong information," I say angrily. "If the Army knew he was killed by friendly fire, why were we and the media told he was killed by the enemy and that there were nine enemy dead and all that rubbish? The Army could have easily said it was a special ops mission and there was no information available. Why was this fraudulent story given to us and to the press?"

Bailey and Nixon look at each other, and then Bailey eyes the soldiers seated behind us. He asks that someone find the protocol for telling families about suspected fratricide. One of the soldiers jumps out of his seat and strides out of the room.

"Ma'am, we didn't want to give you false information," Bailey says.

"No one has deliberately tried to hide anything."

I glance at my family. Everyone looks shell-shocked. The soldier sent to get the information on Army protocol returns. His findings make no sense. First he says families are to be informed within two weeks; next he says something about five weeks. Everyone appears to be lying. I don't know what to believe. Bailey then casually tells us the driver of Baker's vehicle saw the Afghan and recognized him as an Afghan militia soldier before Baker shot and killed him.

We are stunned.

"What! Why didn't he do something?" Patrick yells.

"He tried to stop everyone, but they couldn't hear him because they were deaf from all the firing in the canyon," Bailey tells him.

Patrick's anger mounts. "Why didn't he swerve the vehicle or put on the brakes? The guy is a goddamn Ranger!"

Bailey and Nixon stare at Patrick, not knowing what to say.

My heart breaks as I hear this information. Patrick is right. Why didn't the driver stop the vehicle or swerve out of the way? What kind of Ranger allows his own men to be killed? Kevin is incredulous. He looks as though he is living a nightmare. Mike is clearly having difficulty absorbing what he is hearing. Marie sits silently, overwhelmed by the senselessness of everything. Patrick once again demands to have the written report. Again, someone hustles out of the room.

It's obvious we won't get straight answers from these officers. I decide to ask no more questions, but I have a statement to make: "Colonel Bailey, I want to tell you something that I think is ludicrous. Two weeks after Pat was killed, Colonel Chen, who was at Pat's memorial service, sent two books to my house. One was for Patrick and one was for me. The books were on Ranger training. There was a cover letter that indicated the books were sent so we would know how well trained Rangers are. Well, I thought it was ridiculous such a book was sent to us in the first place, but now that I know Pat was killed by his own men and you all knew it right away, I think sending those books was disgusting."

"Yes, ma'am," Bailey and Nixon say simultaneously.

We ask if there will be a court-martial of the soldiers who killed Pat; they tell us they aren't sure. Nixon says we can call him anytime, as he is taking over command of the 75th Regiment. Bailey has been promoted and will be leaving for a different post. I'm thinking: Pat's dead, killed by his own guys, and now Bailey gets a promotion. Something is wrong.

I want to ask Bailey about his alarming remark to Richard indicating Pat may have been murdered, but I don't want to ask him in front of all these soldiers, certainly not in front of his superior. I also don't want to make things more uncomfortable for Kevin, who's in a delicate position. If something isn't right with what happened to Pat, what can this mean for Kevin?

The soldier who left to check on the written report returns with a stack of documents and passes them out. The packets are warm, fresh off the printer. Bailey walks around the table as Nixon stands up, signaling the end of the meeting. It's as if they want us to get out before we can read anything. We gradually rise from our seats, not sure what to do. The soldiers and officers seated behind us stand, and we start mingling. Some of the men offer their condolences. I feel like I'm going to suffocate.

I walk out of the room and down the hall. Nixon catches up to me. He tells me how sorry he is about what happened and reminds me that I can call if I have questions. He puts out his hand. I shake it, feeling angry, confused, and flustered. I walk outside to wait for everyone else.

We drive home in near silence. We are thoroughly bewildered and exhausted. At home, I try to look at the documents I was given, but I'm gripped with fear, afraid I'll come upon information I'm not ready to see. Hearing pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, I place the documents in my bag and offer to help Marie with dinner. After the meal, we discuss the troubling briefing.

"How could they make a mistake about Baker being out of the vehicle?" Mike asks. "Or whether the Afghan was standing? That just seems like horseshit!"

"Bailey was very clear on those facts each time he told the story of what happened," Kevin says. "I heard his briefing four times. There is something suspicious about this change of story."

I turn to Marie. "Didn't Bailey tell us he walked the site of Pat's death twenty-four hours after he died, and light conditions were good?"

"Yes, that's what he told Kevin and me when he was here, and that's what he said at your house," Marie responds. "He was very clear about that."

"Didn't he also say the smoke was purple?"

"Yes," Marie says.

"What do you think about him saying the Afghan was in a prone position? That must be how he got shot eight times in the chest," Patrick says sarcastically.

"That's ridiculous," I say. "There is something very peculiar about all of this. And what about what Bailey said about the driver seeing the Afghan before Baker shot him?"

"Yes," Mike says, outraged. "How could he realize Baker was shooting at a friendly and not respond more aggressively? Obviously, there could have been more friendlies in the area."

"Baker should have known there could be friendlies nearby," Kevin says. "All the sergeants in our serial knew Serial One was no more than fifteen minutes ahead of us."

"Hell," Mike says, "even if they weren't concerned about accidentally shooting at members of Serial One, you would think they would be saying to themselves, 'Where is Serial One? We need their help right now.' It would seem they would be looking for them."

"These guys are playing us for fools," Patrick says. "We need to go over these documents very carefully."

All of a sudden we are all very quiet. It's getting late, and we need to get to bed. Mike, Patrick, and I have a plane to catch early in the morning, and Marie and Kevin have work.

At four-thirty we are all up. Patrick, Mike, and I see Kevin off to the base and say good-bye to Marie, who has a long commute to Seattle. We eat breakfast rolls and drink coffee, then pack. Patrick and Mike walk out before I do and head to the car. Just as I'm locking the door behind me, I look at the boxes of Pat's belongings in the entryway.

Hesitantly, I return and peek inside the top box. In view are Pat's coffeemaker, two brown Army T-shirts, several boxes of Irish Spring soap, and one running shoe. My throat aches and I feel tears welling as I look at the shoe. Quickly, I grab one of the shirts and a box of soap and place them in my bag. 'I'll tell Marie later,' I say to myself. I hesitantly close the door behind me.
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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:08 pm

Chapter 6

No love, no friendship can cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark on it forever.

-- FRANCOIS MAURIAC


Sitting in the backseat of the car, I listen to the drone of Patrick and Mike's voices as we drive north on Interstate 5 to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I pull Pat's brown T-shirt from my bag and clutch a section of it in my fist. Resting my forehead on the cool glass of the window, I look out at the SR 509 bridge, the cable-stayed bridge that connects the 5 to downtown Tacoma. Gazing out at the maritime city, I remember the last time I was here with Pat, Kevin, and Marie. We sat talking for hours in Tully's Coffee on the ground level of a quaint triangular building that was once the Hotel Bostwick. The coffee and conversation were pungent and stimulating. A smile forms on my face as I recall how our raucous laughter incited embarrassed giggles and sideways glances from the patrons around us.

The car slows and my purse slides off the seat. I see we have come upon morning commuter traffic. I lean over to pick up my bag and find that my wallet has fallen out. It's open to Pat and Marie's wedding picture. I'm engulfed in sadness as I observe the happiness reflected on their faces. Their eyes radiate joy and contentment that they will be sharing a future together, and their smiles reveal excitement about all the possibilities that future holds. I stare at Marie's lovely face: her large, bright blue eyes, her flawless skin, and her warm, vibrant smile framed by endearing dimples. Her life with Pat was so full of promise: living the military life, feeling good about the service and sacrifice they both made, beginning new careers, having children, good times with family and friends, traveling, building dreams, and enjoying the simple things in life, like conversation over coffee, long walks on windy days, and car rides to unknown destinations.

Marie appears to be very delicate and fragile, but she is remarkably brave and resilient, always carrying herself with grace and dignity. I'm struck by how strong she has been over the last seven weeks and how strong she must continue to be in order to rebuild her life.

Marie Kathleen Ugenti was born on November 20, 1976, two weeks after Pat. The first time I became aware of her, she was four years old. She and Pat played in the same soccer league, against each other. Later, her father coached her younger brother Paul's Little League team at the same time Pat's dad was coaching Richard's team. Marie would attend the games occasionally with her sister Christine or her cousin Gina. I don't recall ever being introduced to her or speaking to her, but I noticed how pretty she was. Pat, on the other hand, was oblivious. Except for a crush he had on blond, curly-top Stacey Landucci in kindergarten, he was more interested in climbing trees and playing sports than in girls. However, when Pat came home from school the first day of his freshman year, 1991, he said, "Mom, there is the most beautiful girl in my biology class, and her name is Marie."

I remember suggesting that he ask her out, but he said, "No, she likes older guys. Besides, she's taller than me."

Several weeks later at a football game, Pat ran up to me before his warm-up as I was walking to the stands. He had his helmet in his hand and an excited look on his face.

"Mom," he said, discreetly pointing, "there she is. That's Marie."

I looked up at the stands. "That's Marie Ugenti," I said with a surprised grin.

"Yes, Mom," he replied, grinning back -- and almost hyperventilating -- then turned to run back to the field. I walked into the stands and made a point of saying hello and smiling at Marie.

Pat spoke of her frequently, but he didn't ask her out until their senior year, when he was finally taller than she was. Their first date was at the Crow's Nest in Santa Cruz, and a week or so later they went to homecoming together. From then on, they were a couple. Many people said Pat and Marie were the perfect example of opposites attracting, and in some respects that was true. Pat's build was lean and muscular; his face, chiseled and square-jawed; and his eyes, dark, almond-shaped, and intense. He was extroverted, tenacious, athletic, and driven. In contrast, Marie was slender with soft, delicate facial features and enormous, warm, and gentle blue eyes. She was shy, creative, and modestly goal-oriented. These differences may have ignited the spark, but it was their similarities that lent comfort and clarity to the relationship. Both were smart, intellectually curious, quick-witted, and independent, and when it came to each other, they were playful and private. They shared a love of travel, and they appreciated simple joys.

Pat and Marie had been seeing each other less than a month when they were invited to a classmate's eighteenth birthday party at a hotel in downtown San Jose. There was drinking, and Pat and others got unruly and were asked to leave. Pat, Marie, and many of their friends ended up at a local pizza parlor in a small strip mall. As everyone talked, ate pizza, and waited for their alcoholic buzzes to dissipate, one of Pat's friends, Jeff Hechtle, left to get something at a nearby convenience store. As he headed across the parking lot, he was confronted by a group of older guys, who started harassing him, pinning him against a wall. Another friend, Eric Noble, walked outside and recognized that Jeff was in trouble.

Eric ran back inside the pizza place and yelled that Jeff was getting jumped. Pat and his friends bolted out of their seats and ran outside. When the guys surrounding Jeff saw his friends coming, they started to flee. Pat chased one down and beat him up pretty badly, knocking out his front teeth. The police were called, but Pat was not cited that night. Pat gave the young man his phone number and watched as he got into a car with his friends, who drove home to Sacramento.

The following day, Pat's dad took a call from the young man's father, who said his son had a concussion and was in the hospital. When I told Pat, he looked horrified and walked outside. Pat's father had an appointment, and after I saw him off, I looked for Pat and found him sitting in the eucalyptus tree at the side of our house. I told him I needed to talk to him. He climbed down, his eyes red and watery, and sat next to me on the ground. Tears fell down Pat's cheeks as he told me he may have overreacted in the parking lot. He told me he thought he kneed the guy in the head once he grabbed him and that the guy, who was twenty-two years old, said he was fine. I explained that head injuries can be deceiving; a person can receive a blow and appear fine but hours later have serious symptoms and even die.

My grandmother had left me an inheritance several months earlier. I told Pat we would drive to Sacramento to visit the young man in the hospital to apologize and offer to pay his medical bills. Pat was relieved that we were going to do something proactive. But when we told Pat's father -- an attorney -- our plan, he felt it was unwise. He said if Pat admitted guilt, we would be setting him up to get charged, and later we could get sued. Reluctantly, Pat and I took his advice and waited to see what would happen. The legal system moved slowly, but eventually Pat was charged with felony assault and several months later pled guilty at his hearing. The judge allowed him to complete his senior year, but the day after graduation, June 19, he turned himself in to juvenile authorities for thirty days. He also was required to fulfill 250 hours of community service. Pat knew he was lucky that he was seventeen.

One of the probation officers at juvenile hall sat me down and told me he knew Pat had a football scholarship waiting for him at Arizona State and would have to report to school in mid-August. He said he feared Pat might not be able to complete his community service obligation on time, as the bus that delivered inmates to their various assignments wasn't reliable. He told me I could pick Pat up each day and take him myself. I was so grateful -- not only would it ensure that Pat completed his hours, but it allowed me to spend time with him.

Every morning of his stay in juvenile hall, I packed two coolers, one filled with Pat's breakfast and one with his lunch. I picked him up at seven thirty and took him to the Julian Street Inn, a homeless shelter for mentally ill patients, where he was to work off his hours. Marie was scheduled to leave on a senior girls' trip to Mexico a week or so after Pat went to "jail," which is what we called the detention facility. Before she left, however, she rode with us several times to the work site. I had her duck down in the car in case bringing her was a violation of some rule. Seeing Marie lifted Pat's spirits. About two days before her trip, Pat called me on a pay phone from the facility and asked that I get flowers the color of her eyes. That afternoon I drove to a flower shop and picked out an assortment of blue, violet, and white delphiniums and had them wrapped in tissue paper and tied with a delicate bow. I took the flowers to Marie right away. I will never forget the way she looked when I held them out to her and said, "These are from Pat." Her eyes lit up and a natural blush colored her cheeks. She was delighted but simply said, "Thank you," smiled broadly, and closed the door to appreciate her gift in solitude.

After Marie returned from Mexico, she continued to stowaway in my car every other morning or so, alternating with Pat's brothers and friends. I enjoyed her company, and after we dropped off Pat she often came by the house to visit. I took pleasure in chatting with her. With Pat away, I was able to get to know her better and found out myself how witty and smart she was. Pat often told me that Marie was one of the smartest people he had ever met.

After Pat completed his community service and time in custody, the felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. Pat didn't like being in custody, but he served his time without much complaint. He later confided that while he was not proud of what he had done, he was proud that he had learned more from that one terrible decision than all the good decisions he ever made.

It was difficult for Pat to miss out on all the fun that summer and being with Marie, his brothers, and his friends. He also nearly missed seeing the visitors that haunted New Almaden while he was away. Maybe it was the lack of winter rains, or maybe the ground grubs and berries were particularly tasty. Whatever the reason, the summer of 1994 was the season of wild boar. Kevin, Richard, Marie, and I were talking in the front room one night when we heard -- and felt -- what seemed like heavy hooves mingled with grunting and rooting noises. We were all startled. The boys jumped up and put their faces to the window to look out into the darkness. "Can you see what it is?" I asked as Marie and I scurried over. All we could make out were large blurry shapes. Kevin ran to turn off the lights so we could get a better look.

"Holy shit!" Richard said quietly. "It's a bunch of giant pigs!"

Kevin peered out anxiously as Marie giggled nervously.

"Damn! They're wild boar," he said.

The four of us watched in amazement as the giant boars cultivated half of the yard.

"Look at how cute the baby pigs are," Marie said.

"Yeah," Kevin said, "but that dad is the ugliest dude I've ever seen."

"You don't want to mess with these pigs," I said, "especially with the babies around. The males will charge and slash upwards with their tusks."

"The females don't have tusks?" Richard asked.

"No, but they will charge you with their mouths open," I answered. "They can hurt you."

Suddenly, we saw the lights from a car coming up the driveway.

"Dad's home!" Kevin yelped.

Richard ran to the front door to caution his dad about the nocturnal visitors. Patrick got out of the car and obviously heard their presence before Richard could speak up. We watched him walk quietly but briskly across the lawn. The pigs weren't disturbed in the least. They just kept rooting and grunting.

"Hey, my car is parked in front of Peggy and Syd's," Marie laughed. "How am I going to get to my car?"

It was as if the pigs heard her question. Within seconds they gathered together and lumbered down the driveway.

A few days later, I was browsing at a little shop and found a handmade, antique-looking stuffed pig with button eyes. I wrapped it in colorful paper and gave to Marie as a souvenir of the exciting evening, not imagining that the pigs would continue to pay almost nightly visits.

For weeks, boar families frequented our little "hamlet." Kevin, Richard, or their dad would come home at night and announce, "The boars are rooting around in front of the Pelosis' fence" or "The pigs are rototilling the Bairds' yard" or "The suckers are hauling ass down Almaden Road." The boys' friends who came over at night had to wait in their cars for the boars to wander away.

Pat heard all the stories about the boars and was eager to finally see them when he got home. Days passed after his return from juvenile hall, but no pigs appeared. Finally, one night he and Marie were lying on a quilt they had spread on the floor, watching Lonesome Dove. Marie jerked her head up at the faint sound of hooves. Pat watched as a delighted smile appeared on her face.

"It's the pigs," she said teasingly.

"No shit!" Pat chuckled. He bounded off the floor and ran to the window. They watched the intruders turn the soil in my excuse-for-a-flower-bed garden, marveling at how such ugly creatures could produce such cute piglets. After many minutes, they settled back down in front of the TV, hearing the snorting and grunting in the background.

After the show ended, Marie had to get home. The pigs, however, were still grazing in the yard. Pat grabbed a baseball bat and walked Marie to her car. They giggled as they moved cautiously across the yard, defying danger, unaware that the pigs could not have cared less. I smiled as I watched their playful innocence, happy to see them together again.

A week before Pat left for Arizona State, I threw a big going-away barbecue. Planning it had kept me sane while he was in jail. Because Pat was headed for Arizona, and because he liked the movie Tombstone as well as Lonesome Dove, the party had a western theme. We had bales of hay delivered to use as seating and for mounting a target for archery. My friend Nikki McLaughlin and I made headstones with goofy sayings, and we strategically placed them around the yard along with potted cacti. Pat's dad bought a Ping-Pong table and set it up in a prominent place to ensure its use. The boys and their friends, we would soon discover, provided beer they stashed in various bushes. The party officially ended around midnight, but Pat, Kevin, Richard, and their closest friends sat around the barbecue chatting until the sun came up.

Several days later, along with my husband, Marie, Richard, and his lifelong friend, Collin Berger, I flew to Arizona to escort Pat to Arizona State to report for practice. Kevin couldn't go with us because of his high school football practice schedule.

Pat had been to Tempe on a recruiting trip, but this was the first time for his dad and me. The weather had been cool during Pat's earlier visit, but when we arrived, it was about 110 degrees, and the area looked like a moonscape. We were pleasantly surprised when we saw Arizona State's beautiful campus. I kept thinking, "If only it weren't so hot."

We arrived at the football offices and were shown around the facilities. That's when we learned that Pat's dorm wouldn't be ready for three or four days, and we decided to stay with him until he could move in. We had time to kill, so I suggested we drive to Tombstone in our rented car, since the kids enjoyed the movie so much. They weren't wild about the idea and let that be known, but I kept telling them it would be interesting. I don't think my husband really cared to go, either. Looking back, I realize he was being a good sport.

The six of us piled into the Lincoln Town Car and headed south. After two hours of driving one of the most boring stretches of highway on the planet, I could feel the kids' dirty looks burning a hole in the back of my head; we were only halfway there. Once we arrived, I thought they would be so fascinated with the place that I would be forgiven. Wrong. I was subjected to sighs, rolling eyes, and sulky expressions. Even Marie and Collin were openly mean-mugging me. My husband, feeling a bit sorry for me, pretended he was having fun. After an hour or so of reluctant sightseeing, we had a mediocre meal, which gave the kids an opportunity to send sarcastic one-liners about misery my direction. At that point it seemed they were starting to have fun, but I should have had better sense than to think that was how they wanted to spend their time. Pat had been in juvenile hall most of the summer; he and Marie just wanted to spend time alone before we had to leave. Richard and Collin wanted to hang out at the hotel pool and eat at the burger joint down the street, and my husband wanted to relax in an air-conditioned room. I offered no more brilliant ideas the rest of the trip.

Pat's room was ready two days later. We shopped for some items he needed, had lunch in downtown Tempe, and took Pat to his dorm. Then it was time to catch our plane to San Jose. It was so difficult to leave him. Pat was the one who tended to get homesick. I had to remind Kevin and Richard that they lived at our house; they could have moved in with any number of their friends indefinitely and just paid visits to us when the mood struck. But Pat was only content away from home for short periods of time, and now he was moving to a place where he knew no one. We said our good-byes to Pat, then walked away so he and Marie could part in private.

Everyone tried to keep from crying. We could see how sad Pat was to watch all of us leave, but it was gut-wrenching seeing how painful it was for him to part from Marie. On the way to the airport, Richard, Marie, Collin, and I cried silently to ourselves. Pat's dad drove with a heavy heart.

Pat battled homesickness for several weeks, but as football got under way and classes started, he began to settle in. Marie was able to visit him several times before her classes began at UC Santa Barbara, which made all the difference for both of them. Throughout Pat's years at Arizona State, Marie attended nearly every home game. During the off-season, Pat would travel to Santa Barbara as often as he could to take part in Marie's world. Once they graduated from college, Marie moved to Chandler, Arizona, to live with Pat.

It was actually a pretty stressful time for both of them. Pat had been newly drafted to the Arizona Cardinals, and Marie was having trouble adjusting to Arizona. Not only was the weather hard to take, but she missed her friends and family and also was having a hard time finding a job in her field of biology. She considered going to graduate school, but the best programs were at the University of Arizona in Tucson, about an hour and a half away, and she didn't want that commute several days a week. She decided to take a computer graphics course and got a job at the Arizona Republic. After that, she started to adjust to Arizona.

During the off-season of 2000, Pat and Marie traveled to Europe for five weeks. They took the train, backpacked, and stayed in hostels in Germany, Italy, France, England, and Ireland. The last two weeks of the trip, they met up with Marie's sister and her husband, Alex. The four of them spent time in Paris, London, Dublin, and County Derry in Northern Ireland, where Pat's paternal grandmother had been born. Pat was training for a marathon, and he enjoyed running in the quaint cities and towns he and Marie visited. When Alex and Christine joined them, Pat and Alex ran the streets of London and Ireland's country roads.

They had a wonderful time. Several photographs of their trip stand out in my mind: Marie and Christine doing a little dance on a road in the Irish countryside; Pat and Alex drinking a beer at the Guinness brewery; Pat and Marie smiling into the camera, deliriously happy, as they ride a bus through London; Pat walking into the North Sea.

Pat thoroughly loved the trip. He was fascinated with the history and various cultures. He was impressed by the food, the beauty of the different landscapes, and the hospitality of the people. He kept telling me I had to go to Europe and visit Ireland. He said he'd pay my way when I was ready to go. He raved about the cozy pubs and inviting tea houses. No one appreciated a good cup of tea more than Pat.

Before the 2001 football season started, Pat and Marie moved to Los Gatos, about ten miles from New Almaden. They rented a little apartment within walking distance of the picturesque town. Marie's sister was expecting her first baby, and Marie wanted to be close by. While they were living in Los Gatos, Pat took Marie on a drive to the coast, to the Crow's Nest, where they went on their first date. It was there that he presented her with a ring encased in a tiny wooden chest and asked her to marry him.

Because of football, Pat had to return to Arizona before Alex and Christine's baby was born. The evening after Ryan's birth, many of Marie's relatives were in Christine's hospital room admiring the baby. Suddenly there was a commotion in the hallway; the door burst open and Pat charged in, yelling, "Every day's Sunday, baby!" He had caught a plane right after practice in order to see the new baby, Marie's godchild. He flew out the next morning to be at practice on time.

September 11, 2001, had a profound impact on our family. I was aware that Pat and Kevin were especially disturbed by what happened. They talked about it a lot, but Pat was beginning another football season, and Kevin was preparing for surgery on his shoulder in hopes of healing before his baseball season with the Cleveland Indians farm team began. We all got on with our lives, but in the ensuing months, the September 11 attacks were never far from our thoughts and often a topic of discussion when we were together or talked on the phone. However, we were also preparing for the wedding, an event we looked forward to with joy.

Pat and Marie's wedding day was set for May 4, 2002, at the Ruby Hills Country Club in Pleasanton, about forty miles northeast of San Jose. By February, I was still unsure about where to hold the rehearsal dinner. Pat's father and I had separated six years earlier, and by this time we had divorced. I called him to get his thoughts on where he wanted to hold the dinner, and he gave me several ideas. Then I called Pat to run them by him.

"Ma, I would like the rehearsal dinner to be at your house."

"My house? Are you sure, Pat? My house and yard are awfully small."

"I liked the party you had for me when I left for college," he said. "Remember the bales of hay and the barbecue?"

"Of course I remember," I said with a smile. "We can have something like that, but I think it should be a bit more elegant."

"I don't really want it to be elegant, Mom -- and I can pay for it."

"No, Pat. Your dad and I want to pay for this. If you want the dinner to be at the house, then that's where it will be."

"Good. Thanks, Ma."

I planned the dinner for Thursday, May 2, two days before the wedding, so things wouldn't get too hectic. In the preceding months, I made several arrangements: with a caterer who would bring his giant barbecue and cook up tri-tip and chicken; with the ranch down the road to order bales of hay; with a catering company that would provide linen tablecloths; and with the New Almaden Community Center to rent tables. I arranged for one close friend to pick up the wine and beer and asked other close friends to prepare side dishes.

The house was a whirlwind of activity the Monday before the rehearsal dinner. Pat, Kevin, and Richard were all home. Their friends were in and out, and everyone was running around picking up tuxes and gifts for the best men and ushers, buying new shoes, and getting haircuts. That evening we had some time to ourselves, and we sat around talking. Everyone was excited about the next several days.

Tuesday morning, Richard went outside to cut the grass and came right back, saying there was a terrible smell coming from the side of the house. Pat went out with him to see what the problem was. I assumed a raccoon had died or something. When he and Rich walked back in the house, they did not look happy.

"Mom," Pat said as calmly as he could, "the septic tank has burst."

"What?" I asked stunned, hoping I had heard him wrong.

"The septic tank is leaking into the side yard," Richard said.

"Are you kidding me?" Kevin yelled, almost laughing, as he came into the room.

"That's just great," I groaned. I was ready to panic. I knew I needed to call someone, but I became paralyzed as I saw dollar signs floating before my eyes.

"Pat," I said, nearly dropping the phone book, "I don't know how I'm going to pay for this."

"Don't worry, Mom, I'll pay for it," he said reassuringly. "We don't have time to worry about the money right now, anyway. We have to get the damn thing fixed."

With that, I called a septic tank maintenance company. The man who answered said he could have someone out the next day. That was Wednesday, the day the boys and I had planned to drive to Carmel to visit my cousin David and his wife, Louise, along with my aunts Lannie and Katie and Katie's husband, Tom, who had flown across the country for the wedding. David thought it would be fun for us to get together at his home before the chaos of the wedding events. My sons hadn't seen my aunts since the boys were small, and I was excited for them to meet as adults.

We decided that Kevin and Richard would drive to Carmel, and Pat and I would stay home to supervise the septic tank crew. The septic tank was a dilemma, and the whole situation was complicated by the fact that no one in the crew spoke English. Pat had to keep running into the house to call the supervisor and ask him to translate. Pat also helped the crew dig. In the end, I ended up with a temporary septic tank, which we were told would be good for five years. That was fine. All I wanted was assurance that it would hold out until after the rehearsal dinner. The crew left, and Pat and I cleaned up the yard. Fortunately, all the digging had been done in the side area, so my lawn wasn't touched.

Days before, I had borrowed little white lights from Peggy and Syd to hang on the hedges for the dinner and placed them in my shed. Thursday morning we woke up to find Syd arranging the lights where I'd planned to put them. Kevin and Richard went out to help him, then they went with Pat in Syd's truck to pick up the tables at the community center. Richard came up with the configuration for the tables, and when the hay was delivered, he placed the bales around them. Pat realized a lot of guests would have to park down the road because our driveway wasn't big enough. As he stared at the hay Richard was arranging, it occurred to him that it would be fun and convenient for guests to have a hayride transport them from their cars to the house. Syd graciously offered use of his truck, and Pat and Richard hurled three bales of hay into its bed. We placed inexpensive quilts over the hay so it wouldn't be scratchy for people to sit on. Later in the morning, I picked up the white tablecloths I had rented and then met my ex-husband's girlfriend, Mary, at the flower shop to pick out assorted wildflowers for the tables.

Before long, the evening was upon us. Members of the wedding party started to arrive, and Pat's dad and Mary pulled up the driveway behind Pat and Marie. Pat got out of the car to start his hayride shuttle. He picked up guests at the end of the road and drove them to the bottom of the tree-lined, whimsically primitive brick stairway leading to my house. Laughter, the hum of conversation, and the scent of mesquite filled the air. As I stood on the front stoop and looked out at the lawn, I was taken with how pleasing everything was. The tables, covered with simple white cloths and wildflowers cascading out of mismatched vases, looked dreamy contrasted with the brightly patterned quilts covering the hay bales that surrounded them. The tiny white lights twinkling in the dusk made the scene appear enchanted. The simplicity and naturalness of the evening seemed to mirror the simplicity and sincerity of Pat and Marie's relationship.

I watched Pat closely that night. I was struck by how happy he was. He thoroughly enjoyed everyone and everything, and in his exuberance, he was more content than I'd ever seen him. Thinking back, after months of research and discussions with Marie and Kevin, Pat must have felt such a sense of relief at finally having made the decision to join the military. He was comfortable with his choice, and he was looking forward to sharing this new phase of his life with Marie and Kevin.

After the meal, everyone gathered around Pat while he presented each of his best men -- Richard and Kevin -- and his ushers with an axe. Pat always had been intrigued with the lore and superstition surrounding the axe. Axes symbolized thunderbolts and were used to guard buildings against lightning, as it was believed lightning never struck twice. A thrown axe was believed to ward off hailstorms, and when placed in crops with the cutting edge to the skies, it would protect the crops. Pat told me the axe was once the tool of everyman. It is used in forestry, carpentry, combat, and sport. The head of each axe was engraved with the recipient's name and the inscription:

Pat and Marie May 4, 2002


Friday morning, we cleaned the yard, and then I packed for my mother and me and we left for the hotel in Pleasanton. The whole point of getting there early was to relax before the next day's festivities. But when I arrived at the hotel, I realized I had a flat tire. I checked my mom into our room, then spent the next several hours getting my tire fixed. By early evening, Pat, Kevin, Rich, Mike, and most of the ushers had arrived at the hotel. Mom went to sleep early, and I stayed up to write cards to Pat and Marie, hoping to express what I felt in my heart.

In the morning, Pat came to my room. He said he had a bit of a stomachache. Maybe he had eaten something that didn't agree with him, maybe he had a hit too much to drink the night before, or maybe it was just a case of nerves. He lay down on the bed for a while and talked to Mom and me. Before he left, I handed him a card I had written.

"Thank you, Mom," he said as he gave me a gentle hug.

I watched Pat walk down the hall, heading back to his room. Just before he got to the doors that led to the elevator, he turned around, smiled, and waved with a giant stroke that appeared to be in slow motion. I smiled and waved back, then slowly shut the door as he disappeared from sight.

Mom and I visited with friends and family by the pool for a little while, then went to get ready. I helped bathe and dress my mother, whose Parkinson's disease sometimes got in the way of her mobility. But she certainly didn't appear to have Parkinson's once she was dressed for the wedding. The cut of her muted gold dress gave her the appearance of height and had a slimming effect. Peggy had hemmed Mom's dress and surprised her by making her a darling little purse with the same fabric. With her hair done and just a touch of mascara and rose color on her cheeks, Mom looked beautiful. As a girl, with her dark hair, exotic eye shape, and tiny stature, my mother looked very Asian. Since there were no Asian children at Saint Francis de Sales Catholic School in Newark, Ohio, during the 1930s, my mother was chosen to play a Japanese doll in a school play. As she stood in front of the full-length mirror, I looked at her admiringly. Tears formed in her eyes when I said, "Mom, you look just like a Japanese doll."

Once I was dressed, my aunts and Tom drove Mom and me to the country club where the wedding was to take place. As we drove up the winding driveway, the spectacular setting came into view. Vineyard-covered mountains bordered a villa-style clubhouse surrounded by a rolling green golf course. My aunts took Mom to find her a place to sit. I approached the main foyer of the clubhouse and saw Pat, his father, Kevin, and Richard standing on the steps. They all looked so handsome. I had my picture taken with Pat, then went to the dressing room to see Marie. She was breathtakingly lovely, serene, and confident. Before I left, I gave her the note I had written to her the night before. She read it, then thanked me with her radiant smile.

In the area where the reception would be held, the atmosphere was that of understated elegance. Surrounding the dance floor were round tables draped in white linen and adorned with centerpieces of wine and burgundy hydrangeas.

Everyone was gathering on the garden patio for the ceremony. Chairs were set up on either side of an aisle strewn with deep red rose petals. As I stood appreciating the landscape beyond the patio, Pat's paternal grandmother, Mary Tillman, walked up and gave me a hug. She looked so happy and proud. I complimented her on her tailored blue suit, and she chuckled and blushed. I have always delighted in the fact that even Mary's laugh seems to have an Irish inflection. Richard and Kevin then came over to tell us the ceremony was about to begin.

The grandmothers were escorted to their seats first. Richard took my arm and walked me to mine. I sat looking out at the majestic view as Pat and Judge Kevin Murphy took their places for the ceremony. When the music began to play, everyone turned to watch the ushers and bridesmaids walk down the aisle. Richard and Kevin followed, escorting Christine. The guests giggled as the three-year-old flower girls -- Pat's goddaughter, Alex Hechtle, and my goddaughter, Meg Tillman -- walked down the aisle determinedly scattering petals from their delicate baskets. Meg smiled sweetly at the rows of onlooking grown-ups as she conscientiously slowed her pace to wait for Alex, who sauntered mischievously several paces behind.

As the French doors opened, the guests stood to watch Marie and her father emerge through the archway and walk down the aisle. Marie was beaming as she gracefully approached Pat, who stood with pride. He smiled as he watched his lovely bride move toward him and take her position by his side. A soft breeze lifted Marie's veil, and it fluttered around her head. Pat gently caught it and held it tenderly against her small waist.

***

I'm suddenly aware that the car is slowing down and the light inside has dimmed. Looking up, I see we are entering the airport's car-rental garage. I glance again at Pat and Marie's picture, then slowly close my wallet. I take Pat's T-shirt and rub it lightly against my cheek before placing it carefully in my bag.
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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:10 pm

Chapter 7

Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way ... that is not easy.

-- ARISTOTLE


Patrick, Mike, and I return the rental car and pick up our tickets for the flight home. Mike and I are traveling together; Patrick is scheduled to fly earlier on a different airline. The three of us have coffee at Starbucks before we part. Patrick looks drained and tired as he leaves to catch his flight. At the souvenir shop, I buy bottled water and Mike gets a book. Onboard the plane we sit in near silence until we are in the air. Then Mike puts on his glasses, takes out a Patricia Cornwell novel, and begins to read. I stare out the window at the billowing cloud formations. I wonder what it must be like to parachute through the floating vapor.

Several years earlier, Patrick had taken the boys and me to the nearby community of Morgan Hill to go skydiving, but I decided not to participate. Pat and Kevin at nineteen and eighteen were old enough to take the course, but Richard was fifteen, so Patrick signed paperwork stating he was older. I was sick to my stomach about all of them jumping out of an airplane, but I was especially concerned about Richard.

"There are age restrictions for a reason," I said. Patrick assured me Richard would be fine, as he would get training and jump with two "spotters," who would stay with him until his chute opened. For several hours, I watched Pat and the boys go through the training. At several points, I felt inclined to go, too, but each time I chickened out.

After Patrick and the boys were deemed ready to go, they suited up and were escorted to the plane. Richard was supposed to go with his dad on the second trip, but he wanted to go with his brothers, so Patrick and two other student divers and their spotters waited for the next turn.

I was given directions to a field where I could watch them make their descent. I stood there, palms sweaty, waiting with one other observer for the plane to fly overhead. We heard the hum of the engine before the plane appeared. As it came into view, I saw three figures dive from the plane. The first jumper and his spotters fell together until the jumper's parachute opened. A few seconds later, the parachute of the spotters opened, and the next jumper and his spotters descended. Once their chutes released, another set bounded out of the plane. As the first jumpers came closer to earth, I could tell from the color of their suits that it was Pat and Kevin.

While they floated toward the ground, I kept my eye on the third set of divers, who were still in a freefall and rapidly approaching Kevin and his spotters' position. I could tell that Richard was the jumper. I was petrified. His chute wasn't opening; I felt helpless. Suddenly, the ripcord was pulled and he began to drift gently down. Richard was in his freefall so long that he ended up landing before Pat did. All three boys touched down safely. They wrapped up their chutes and walked the two hundred meters to where I was waiting. They wore huge smiles, and their eyes were as big as saucers.

"What the hell happened up there, Rich?" Pat asked.

"Yeah," Kevin said.

Richard laughed nervously. "I forgot to pull the ripcord."

I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and told myself not to come unglued.

"Holy shit, Rich!" Pat and Kevin bellowed at the same time.

"You're damn lucky it wasn't too late to open the thing or you'd be a grease spot on the ground," Kevin added.

"I know," Rich said. "It was just so awesome up there, I zoned out."

I must have gone pale because Pat gently touched my arm and said with a grin, "Mom, Rich's chute would have opened automatically after so many feet."

After I mockingly smacked the three of them, Pat and Kevin walked over to their spotters and thanked them for their help. Rich and I jokingly thanked his spotters for saving his life, and then the four of us waited for the plane to return with the next round of skydivers. Kevin yelled as the plane came into view. We watched several sets of jumpers leap from the plane. Once the chutes opened, Rich announced that the second jumper was Dad. We watched him glide through the sky and land solidly on the ground. The boys ran over to him and helped him gather his parachute. The four of them were exuberant about their adventure, and they yammered excitedly all the way home.

I'm sure that experience somewhat prepared Pat and Kevin for jump school in the Rangers. But I recall vividly that Pat had his father, brothers, Marie, and me in hysterics during our first visit with him and Kevin at Fort Benning, Georgia, as he recounted his first several jumps. For some reason, the harness he wore tugged tightly once his parachute opened, painfully pinching his private parts. He said he howled in agony the whole way down, gyrating in vain as he tried to readjust himself while his noncommissioned officer, or NCO, hollered at him through a megaphone, "Put your feet together!" If Pat hadn't been positioned properly when he hit the ground, he could have injured himself badly.

That visit to Fort Benning in late October of 2002, after the boys' boot camp graduation, was so much fun. Marie hadn't seen Pat and Kevin for eight weeks, and the rest of us hadn't seen them for nearly four months. We spent our first afternoon together laughing in a motel room in Columbus, Georgia, listening to stories of their boot camp experience. We had dinner in a little Italian restaurant with a wonderful throwback atmosphere and bold Chianti. The next morning, we ate a hearty Southern breakfast at a little cafe in downtown Columbus, then leisurely chatted as we strolled in and out of antique stores and walked the promenade that runs along the banks of the Chattahoochee River.

We didn't see Pat and Kevin again until a month later, when they got an early Thanksgiving leave from the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP). I once again had a few bales of hay delivered to the house, and we had our turkey feast outside in the autumn sunshine among the fallen leaves. I was sad when they had to leave, but they both assured me they would be home for Christmas.

A month later, Marie picked Pat and Kevin up at the San Jose Airport. I can still hear the honking horn as Pat barreled up the driveway. He and Kevin bounded out of the car, both of them wearing crazy Christmas sweaters they had picked up in the women's department at Target. Marie got out of the car laughing, her eyes sparkling and her nose and cheeks rosy from the crisp, cold December air. Pat and Kevin ran immediately to Peggy and Syd, who stood on their front porch to greet them. Rich arrived that evening after driving up from Los Angeles. We had a wonderful holiday. The boys and Marie spent time shuttling from my house, to the home of Marie's parents, to Alex and Christine's, and to their dad's place. There was decorating, gift giving, eating and drinking, laughing, and playing lots of rounds of Trivial Pursuit. But during that time, we also spent hours discussing Iraq.

It was widely reported that Bush wanted to invade that country, and it appeared he was looking for any excuse to do so. We all knew Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but we also knew there was no connection between him and Osama bin Laden or the terrorist attacks, despite the administration's efforts to convince the American people otherwise. Bin Laden was a militant fundamentalist, and Saddam was a secular leader, and for that reason bin Laden hated Saddam and considered him a traitor to Islam. It didn't make sense that they would ever work together on anything, and it shocked me that more than 70 percent of the American people believed Bush and Dick Cheney. In addition, if the administration knew the location of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, as claimed, why not tell international weapons inspector Hans Blix and his team in Iraq where to find them?

We discussed many of the books we had been reading -- Bush at War, by Bob Woodward; 9-11, by Noam Chomsky; and Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of the Terrorist, by Adam Robinson. We were all trying to understand the reasons for 9-11 and our government's response to it.

During the month of November, Marie and her parents looked for a house in the Tacoma area, near Fort Lewis, where Pat and Kevin would be stationed after Ranger School. Marie and her mother found the perfect house situated on a knoll overlooking the Tacoma Narrows and the Olympia Mountains. From the photographs Marie showed me, I knew Pat would love it. The little house was cottagelike, with a fireplace, wooden floors, a basement, and a welcoming Dutch door in the back. A few days before the New Year, Pat and Marie packed their Volvo with Christmas presents before setting out for Tacoma. Kevin had intended to go with them, but he came down with a bad case of the flu and ended up driving up with his father a few days later.

Pat was a bit sad to leave home. His eyes welled up with tears as he hugged me good-bye. He told me he hated to leave home -- the little cabin, he called it. Marie and I glanced at each other and smiled. We knew once he saw the home she had found for them, he would be just fine. The next morning the phone rang. I read Pat and Marie's new number on the caller ID.

"Hello," I said coyly.

"Mom! This place is fucking awesome! Marie did a great job. We can look out over the water and see the mountains, and the place has wooden floors and a fireplace."

We talked for a few minutes, then I spoke to Marie, who was more thrilled than ever with her lucky discovery. I hung up the phone delighted, knowing Pat was in a "little cabin" of his own.

***

The plane suddenly hits turbulence. I glance over at Mike and notice he has just tucked his book in the pocket behind the seat in front of him.

"Bad book?" I ask.

"No," Mike says rather uncomfortably.

"Isn't Patricia Cornwell's main character a forensic pathologist? Seems like the book should be interesting."

"Yes, but this is a bit more graphic than I expected."

"What's it about?"

"Oh, it's not worth talking about."

I look at him quizzically.

"Well, okay," he says reluctantly. "The plot centers around the University of Tennessee's Decay Research Facility, which is used in the study of forensic anthropology. You know, the study of the decomposition of human bodies."

I instantly comprehend Mike's uneasiness. But I'm struck by the fact I'm not repulsed by the topic; rather, it seems Pat's death has made me curious about it. In fact, I've found I'm strangely comforted talking about the dead.

The flight attendant asks for our drink preferences. Mike orders a coffee, and I order a Bloody Mary. As I dig around in my purse for the money, Mike decides to continue reading and settles back with his book. I pay the flight attendant, pull down my tray table, and then take my copy of the 15-6 [1] report from my bag and place it on the tray. I sit for many minutes staring at the first page, dated May 28, 2004, more than two weeks ago.

Memorandum For Commander, ________, Afghanistan APO AE 09354 Commander, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina 28310 Commander, Special Operations Command Central, MacDill AFB, Florida 33621-5101

SUBJECT: Report of Fratricide Investigation

My eyes scan the next few lines and focus on the last paragraph: All requests concerning the report made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act and/or Privacy Act should be Forwarded to USCENTCOM, attention FOIA [2] officer."

It is signed by John F. Sutter for John P. Abizaid, general, U.S. Army. I wonder if it's typical that all requests for documents be forwarded to CENTCOM. I turn the page and begin to go through the 110 pages of narratives and question-and-answer statements taken from the soldiers who were present when Pat was killed. The documents are redacted, meaning names, places, and sensitive information are blacked out. However, I'm able to identify some of the soldiers based on information I learned at both briefings and in conversations I've had with Kevin.

As I read through the first several pages, Colonel Jeffrey Bailey's shocking statement plays in my head: The driver recognized the Afghan as an allied soldier, and he saw friendlies on the ridgeline before Sergeant Greg Baker shot and killed him. I again wonder why he couldn't prevent Baker and the others in the vehicle from shooting at their fellow soldiers. I begin searching for the driver's statement. I come upon several lines in a narrative that read, "I screamed 'no' and then yelled repeatedly several times to cease fire. No one heard me." My stomach is churning. This has to be the driver, Sergeant Kellett Sayre. I start the narrative from the beginning, and then I come upon the disturbing testimony that confirms it's him.

As soon as we had enough room we went around the Jinga truck. Immediately after that, about 200 meters, we rounded a corner where I saw the [vehicles] from the first convoy. (I was the driver the entire time.) I looked to my right and saw one pax [3] with an AK-47 which confused me for a split second, but I also saw the rest of section one on top of the ridgeline. I yelled twice "we have friendlies on top." They (GMV [4] crew) must have not heard me because my GMV opened fire on them (section one on the ridgeline). I screamed "no" and then yelled repeatedly several times to cease fire. No one heard me. By that time, I believe everybody was deaf from all the gun fire that had been shot off. Finally, they stopped after a few bursts on the .50 cal. After that, things started calming down and security perimeter was established. Nothing follows.


"Nothing follows?" That's all he has to say after the men in his vehicle kill two of their own and wound two others? He seems to have no disgust at himself for not doing more to stop them or outrage at the men who were shooting. I look over at Mike to vent my frustration, but he has dozed off. Peering momentarily out the window, I take a deep breath. How could Sayre recognize the Afghan soldier, the vehicles parked down the road, and the friendlies on the ridgeline, but the others could not?

Rage burns in my throat. I think back to when Colonel Bailey came to my house and told us that Sergeant Baker was out of the vehicle when he shot the Afghan and that the vehicle had stopped. What if that story was true? Why couldn't the soldiers see that they were firing on a friendly position? The platoon had been with the Afghan Militia Force soldiers for several weeks. Their uniforms, according to Kevin, were very similar to the ones the U.S. soldiers were wearing. If the Afghan was indeed standing, as Bailey said at first, why didn't Baker recognize him? And if he was prone, as Bailey now contended, how could he get shot in the chest? He would have had to have been a contortionist. I think of Pat, frantically yelling and signaling his presence. He had such distinctive body language; he was big compared to most Rangers and certainly bigger than the enemy. He was wearing an obvious U.S. uniform, and he was carrying a SAW [5] gun. Even at 100 to 150 meters, he would have been hard to miss.

How can we make sense out of all this? I lean my elbows on the tray table and rest my head in my hands.

"Dannie," Mike says groggily as he raises his seat, "are you all right?"

"No," I reply. "Mike, I'm really concerned. I think Bailey and Nixon lied to us, and I'm having trouble believing Pat could not be seen. Maybe they couldn't tell it was Pat, but they had to see it was an American soldier, I don't care if he was one hundred or more meters away."

"I think you're right," Mike says. "I believe they lied, too. I also think Pat was a lot closer than what they're saying. Put the report away for now. I'll go over it with you after we have our drinks."

One of the flight attendants hands us a pack of pretzels, and the other serves our drinks. I stick the pretzels in my purse, then pour the vodka and Bloody Mary mix into the plastic cup. Mike and I sip our drinks quietly. When we finish, we each take out our copies of the report. I have Mike read Sayre's statement.

When he finishes, he looks up in disgust, expressing the same concerns I have. "Why didn't he do more to stop the shooting? And why is he the only one who sees the friendlies?"

"I don't know," I say, shaking my head. As I thumb through the pages, I come upon a statement I know is Private Bryan O'Neal's, the young soldier positioned just feet away from Pat when he was killed. My hands start to tremble as I scan the narrative. I'm gripped with anxiety at what I am about to read and close the pages. I look out the window in order to gather myself, and then I open to O'Neal's statement again. Stumbling over the redactions, I read about Pat and O'Neal's actions prior to Baker's vehicle coming out of the canyon, and the fateful shots that took Pat's life.

While on route to our objective, [DELETE] and I talked about Ranger School and how beautiful the country was when we hear an explosion. We called for[DELETE] to stop, but he didn't hear us. So we kept moving [from] about 10 to 15 meters before stopping. After we stopped [DELETE] and [DELETE] pulled security while I moved out with SPC Tillman who was in the Hilux [6], behind us. We first moved through and up the village linking up with [DELETE] squad led by [DELETE]. We received no contact in the village so we moved out, splitting up [DELETE] team who linked up with [DELETE] from SPC Tillman and I. SPC Tillman and I moved up some sort of ridgeline then down into a draw where we link up with an AMF guy. We secured some lower here we could put some fire down on a high ridge area where we saw some movement of what looked like to be enemy pax. SPC Tillman was forward and to the right of me at this time when I moved down to him behind the same rock. He then (Tillman) told me he was going to link up with [illegible] to find out what was the plan. So I moved into his position to lay down some fire for him while he moved out. At this time I was controlling the AMF guy on where to fire because he wanted to move out. But he lost focus of the ridge to our front [from] some action from the ridgeline to our right side shooting across the road. It took SPC Tillman a few moments to return back to our position with a plan of action, and when he moved down to my position on the side of the rock he took a hold of the top, laying down fire on the ridge. Not long after did a friendly cargo/GMV come down the road toward our direction. When they made eye contact with us, they opened fire with small arms. They rolled through very quickly. After they came, a GMV with a .50-cal rolled into our sight and started to unload on top of us. They would work in bursts, .50-cal for 10-15 seconds, 240B 10-15 seconds (back and forth) for a few minutes. SPC Tillman and I were yelling stop ... stop ... friendlies ... friendlies ... cease fire!" But they couldn't hear us. Tillman came up with the idea to let a smoke grenade go. This stopped the friendly contact for a few moments and that's when I realized that the AMF soldier was dead. At this time, the GMV rolled into a better position to fire on us. We thought the battle was over so we were relieved, getting up stretching out and talking with one another when I heard some 5.56 rounds [7] coming from the GMV. They started firing again. After only a few 5.56 rounds the .50 cal started fire again. That's when I hit the deck and started praying. SPC Tillman at this time was hit with some small arms fire. I know this because I could hear the pain in his voice as he called out "cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat fucking Tillman damn it." He said this over and over until he stopped. Not long after the firing stopped the GMV moved out. I was lying next to the original rock I used for cover when I heard what sounded like water pouring down ... I then looked over at my side to see a river of blood coming down [from] where he was. I had blood all over my shoulder from him and when I looked at him, I saw his head was gone.


My eyes fill with tears and I feel trapped in my seat as I'm overwhelmed with nausea. I close the pages and lean back in my seat as tears fall down my cheeks.

"Dannie," Mike says not lifting his head from the documents in front of him. "Have you read O'Neal's responses to the questions?"

"What?" I ask numbly.

"Did you read O'Neal's responses to the questions he was given?"

I'm afraid to speak, afraid I'll be sick. Mike looks over at me and sees I'm upset.

"What's wrong? What did you find?"

"I read O'Neal's statement, page seventy-one," I say, barely audibly.

Mike opens to O'Neal's narrative. When he finishes, he leans back in his seat and remains silent for many minutes.

"Dannie, remember how Nixon said there was no lull in fire, that the vehicle shot continuously down the ridgeline?"

"Yes," I respond.

"Well, on page seventy-three, O'Neal is asked, 'How did CPL Tillman get killed?' and O'Neal says: 'He was yelling "cease fire" to the GMV that was shooting at us. He got up and left his position to throw a smoke grenade. Once the smoke grenade was thrown, the firing briefly stopped. We both stood up, and then the firing resumed again.' Dannie, O'Neal is saying there was a lull in fire."

I sit up in my seat. "Bailey told us there was a lull in fire when he came to the house. He said they stopped to reload. Mike, we need to go through these statements carefully to see if any other soldiers testify there was a lull in fire. If there was, then why couldn't Sayre stop them?"

"Good point. Another thing: Remember a few minutes ago I said I believe Pat was a lot closer to the shooters than they're saying?"

"Yes, why do you think that?"

"In part it's a gut feeling," Mike says. "But I don't think Pat would be yelling his name so desperately if he was that far away. I think Pat was shocked they weren't seen. Even O'Neal makes reference to the guys in the vehicle making eye contact with them."

"I know, that remark stood out to me, too," I say. "The thing that is odd about his statement, though, is that he indicates there was a cargo GMV that passed their position before Baker's vehicle came along. No one has mentioned a vehicle passing by the position before Baker's."

"If another vehicle did pass by the position and went by safely, then that would make Baker's vehicle look even more negligent. As it is, they admit they weren't aware of being fired upon other than the Afghan firing over their heads."

"Mike, do you think the jinga truck driver had anything to do with the ambush? I know Bailey said he didn't. What do you think?"

"I don't know. At this point, I just don't trust what they're telling us. Did you see anything yet about the note that was given to the platoon while they were in Magarah? Remember? Bailey told us about it at your house."

"Yeah, I remember him telling us that, but I haven't seen anything yet."

Mike and I pore over the statements together and find another one where a soldier indicates there was a break in fire: "What I thought was mortar fire from Tillman's position was the smoke he popped off which slowed down the fire." Another statement says Baker's vehicle stopped after exiting the canyon. As we read, I become frustrated by the redactions. It is very difficult trying to figure out who is talking and who they are talking about. Pat's name is the only name not blacked out.

We come upon a document of questions and responses. The responses are from the SAW gunner in Baker's vehicle. Kevin told me his name is Trevor Alders. One question asks, "Why did you fire at waving arms?" He replies, "I saw the arms waving, but I didn't think that they were trying to signal cease fire."

"What!" I gasp. "He saw waving arms and he just kept firing. Isn't it against the rules of engagement to shoot at the enemy if he's waving his hands?"

'Yes," Mike answers. "This is insane."

Several questions down it reads, "At this point in time, were you taking enemy fires?" Alders answers, "I couldn't tell. Others were firing and I wanted to stay in the firefight."

"Jesus!" Mike says. "They weren't even taking fire. This guy didn't even know what he was firing at; he just wanted to shoot."

Mike and I are getting increasingly angry, but we continue to search the documents. We find a statement by the XO, [8] whom Kevin identified as Captain Kirby Dennis, who testified, "The Commander wanted the platoon leader [to] have 'boots on the ground' by daybreak to clear the Manah village per the Battalion's tasking." Others testified that the commander wanted the platoon in the village by dusk.

"Why all this confusion with dusk and daybreak?" I ask. "It makes no sense that platoon leader Uthlaut believed he had to be in Manah by dusk. Why didn't he clarify the time of day? I don't understand why the orders were so confused. I wish I knew who the commander was."

"Doesn't Kevin know?" Mike asks.

"No. He has asked other soldiers, but none of them knows who the commander was in Khost."

Mike looks back at the document. "Look at this," he says. "Captain ... what's his name again?"

"Captain Dennis."

"Captain Dennis is asked, 'What's the policy on [DELETE] movements?' There are indications in the documents that he is referring to daylight movements. Dennis answers, 'I didn't know that there's a direct prohibition against them. It was my understanding that the battalion commander strongly discouraged them and that they were to be avoided whenever possible.'''

"Sounds like Bailey didn't want the troops to move during the daylight or dusk hours," I say. "Why would the commander in Khost go against that policy? Why was there such a sense of urgency for this mission?"

"Dannie, I don't know who this is -- it might still be Dennis -- but he says the company commander gave the order to split the troops and he thinks that order came from the S-3, [9] who I believe is the head commander, yet this guy implies the S-3 had no idea the troops were split."

I remember listening to my father's Civil War lessons about the danger of splitting troops. The splitting of Pat's platoon resulted in the chaos and confusion that led to the devastating outcome of April 22. Who is going to be held accountable for that irresponsible order?

"Oh look, Mike. On page forty-four, this is the S-3. He says, 'I did not know the platoon was split into sections. I first found out during the AAR [after-action review] process that followed the incident. I did not order the splitting of the platoon. My only comment to the company commander was, 'This vehicle problem better not delay us anymore.' How could he not know the troops were split! And I don't understand why they didn't blow up that damn vehicle or just leave it behind. That's what all the soldiers wanted to do."

Mike, reading ahead of me, says, "Uthlaut apparently requested fire support, but it was denied." "Fire support?"

"Air support, I believe," Mike says.

"It was denied? I thought all Special Forces missions had air support."

Mike, disgusted, replies, "Not this one."

"In looking at these documents, I can see that the ambush was frightening and a bit confusing in the canyon, but there was no carnage. The vehicles even came out unscathed. Why was the reaction of Baker and his men so hysterical? No one was even shooting at them once they exited the canyon."

"I don't know, Dannie. And it makes no sense that Baker wasn't looking for the first serial. Didn't Bailey tell us that Uthlaut informed his squad leaders that Serial One would be taking the canyon route?"

"Yes, and Kevin said he heard his platoon sergeant tell Baker and the other squad leaders the plan. Plus, everyone saw Serial One enter the canyon ahead of them."

"Where the hell was his situational awareness? These Rangers are trained to go back to help each other," Mike says, his anger rising. "Baker should have known to control his fire team."

"Baker was Kevin's squad leader in Iraq. He and Pat both observed him to be pretty competent. I can't understand how he could have been so incompetent that day."

"Do we know who the company commander was?" Mike asks.

"I believe Kevin said it was Captain [William] Saunders. Marie worked with Saunders's wife in Seattle."

"Okay, so it's the S-3 we can't identify?" Mike asks.

"Yes. Kevin said he would try to find out."

Mike and I are both exhausted after looking at the report. We put the documents away and lean back in our seats. I close my eyes and go back to thinking about Iraq and how worried I was when Pat and Kevin were there. This was a war Pat and Kevin did not enlist to fight and one that everyone in our immediate family considered illegal. Before departing for the Middle East, Kevin and Pat could not tell us when they were leaving, and because they were with a special operations unit, once they were there, they couldn't communicate with us at all. I knew there was going to be an invasion, and I was very worried. I was mistaken on this count.

The American invasion began March 20, 2003. In the early stages, the Marines were getting hit hard. My heart was breaking for the families of those Marines. I was on edge all the time. Kevin told me later that being in Iraq was difficult for Pat. While he and his brother were usually separated on mission, Kevin recalled a time when they had been in the same armored vehicle. As it moved down the street, Pat saw a frightened old man and a child, maybe his grandson, standing against a chain-link fence. There was a look of terror in the old man's eyes. Pat yelled in Arabic over the roar of the vehicle: "We will not harm you!" He felt so awful for the man and child.

Because I was unable to write to Pat and Kevin while they were gone, I started writing to them in a composition book that I would give them when they returned. It comforted me to do so, even though I couldn't share the thoughts at that time. My sons had departed sometime in late February or early March, and by early May, I felt as though they had been gone for years.

Mother's Day that year fell on May 11. I invited my mother to stay with me that weekend. On Saturday, she and I were talking when I noticed a red flag on my e-mail. I checked to see who had written and found this wonderful message, now embedded in my memory, sent from a base in Saudi Arabia.

From: Pat Tillman<pattillman@comcast.net> Date: Sat. 10 May 200318:23:27-0400 Subject: Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day Ma!!!!! Unfortunately we must apologize for our absence on this glorious occasion, however, know that we are thinking of you and cannot wait to get home. Marie sent some pictures from her trip back home, which reminded us just how bad we miss you and your little cabin. All is well and please spend today reflecting on all the positives of the past and [the] bright future that lays ahead as opposed to worrying about us. We love you, Ma ... Happy Mother's Day!!!!

Pat & Kevin


I'm startled as the flight attendant asks me for my trash. I wipe tears from my cheeks and hand her my plastic cup. Mike and I put our tray tables up, and I look out the window as we begin our gradual descent into San Jose. Staring down on the tops of trees, building rooftops, and commuter traffic, I think about Pat and his honorable and loving character and also about the contradictions in the two briefings. I am angry and confused by the conflicting stories. It will take a lot of concentration and time to carefully read each word of testimony. I know less about what happened to Pat today than I did the day he was killed.

Colonel Bailey and Colonel Nixon told us two different stories, one that Bailey told us when he first came to the house, and another later.

_______________

Notes:

1. An administrative investigative procedure implemented to find out what has occurred in military situations that are under question, which can determine if a criminal investigation should take place.

2. Freedom of Information Act.

3. Paktia militia fighter.

4. Ground mobility vehicle (sometimes called a Humvee).

5. Squad automatic weapon.

6. Toyota 4 x 4 pickup trucks outfitted for military use.

7. This caliber of round would have been shot from a SAW (squad automatic weapon).

8. Executive officer.

9. A battalion commander's principal staff officer concerning operations and plans.
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Re: BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK: MY TRIBUTE TO PAT TILLMAN

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:11 pm

Chapter 8

Those we have held in our arms for a little while, we hold in our hearts forever.

-- ANONYMOUS


Mike and I return to my house from the airport. He relaxes for a while and then heads home to Fremont. After I unpack, I pour myself a cup of coffee and sit on the front stoop. The sun is shining through the leaves of the surrounding trees, illuminating their many shades of green. The sky is clear and the air is warm and pleasant. It's a beautiful June afternoon, so much like the day, nearly two months ago, when I learned Pat was never coming home.

Thursday, April 22, I had been at school early, around five thirty a.m. I had a parent meeting scheduled for seven thirty, and I wanted to make sure my lessons for the day were organized in case the meeting went longer than expected. I remember walking from the office back to my classroom looking at the mountains and thinking, "What a gorgeous and peaceful day."

At two forty-five I had another parent meeting. It ended about four. I walked across the street to my car feeling vaguely light-headed, but the sensation passed. When I pulled into the driveway and saw Peggy sitting on her porch, I sat and chatted with her for about fifteen minutes and then walked to my house. As I went through the front door, I was immediately conscious of how tired I felt, as if all energy had left my body, much like air being released from a balloon.

I started to walk toward my bedroom so I could change into more comfortable clothes when I noticed a message on my answering machine. It had been left about an hour earlier, at three thirty. It was from Richard. He sounded agitated and said he needed to talk. I dialed his number right away, but he didn't answer. I took the phone off the cradle and carried it with me to my room while I changed. I had every intention of sitting down and grading some vocabulary tests, but I felt so exhausted that I got into bed and pulled up the covers, clutching the phone in my hand.

Before I fell asleep, I remember wondering why I was so drained. It wasn't like me. I must have been asleep for a couple of hours when the phone rang. I looked to see if it was Richard, but it wasn't; it was my mom. Because I felt so tired, I let the call go to my message machine and laid my head down again, but after a few minutes, since I was awake, I called her back. She told me Alex, Pat's brother-in-law, had the operator interrupt her phone conversation with my aunt. She said he was looking for Mike. I still felt disoriented and wasn't sure I was processing what she was saying to me.

"What do you mean he interrupted a phone call?" I asked, my voice groggy.

"An emergency interruption -- you know, Dan -- by the operator. Alex said he needed to talk to Mike. He sounded weird. I asked him if Pat and Kevin were all right."

My chest froze. "Of course they're all right, Mom," I said curtly. But something didn't feel right. I was suddenly queasy as I got quickly out of bed.

"Alex left a number, Dannie," Mom said.

I hurriedly jotted it down. "That sounds like Alex's number, Mom. Thank you. I'll call him now. I'll talk to you soon."

My heart was racing as I hung up. I walked to the front room and looked quickly at my address book to make sure the number Mom gave me belonged to Alex. I dialed it nervously, my stomach turning. Alex answered right away.

"Hello."

"Hi, Alex," I said trying to sound calm. "My mom said you called her ... "

"Dannie," he said abruptly, "call Marie at home." He hung up.

Fear churned my insides. I started pacing the floor, trying to talk myself out of thinking the worst. It disturbed me that Alex told me to call Marie at home. It was a little before seven p.m. Marie was rarely home before seven thirty or eight. I paced the floor for several minutes. Finally, I dialed Marie and Pat's home number.

Marie answered. "Hello."

I was so relieved. Her voice sounded like it always did. Instantly, I relaxed.

"Hi, Marie. It's Dannie. Alex said to call you. What's up?"

There was no response.

"Marie," I said softly, "what is it? Is something wrong?"

No response.

Desperate fear gripped me, and I felt I was engulfed in a haze.

"Marie! What is it?! What's wrong?!"

"He's dead," she said numbly.

"Dead! Who's dead?!" I screamed.

"Pat's dead."

I felt as if a giant fist plunged into my stomach and hollowed me out, producing a sound I had never heard before; it was guttural, primitive, the sound of an animal. Holding the phone out in front of me, I rushed out my front door, running away from the words. I screamed for Peggy as I stumbled across my yard, falling out of my shoes. At some point my legs gave way and I began to fall. Everything around me was a blur, but I was faintly aware of a figure dropping in front of me to grab me as I went down.

"My baby! My baby! My baby's dead! Oh, my God! Pat's dead!"

Through tear-filled eyes and a fog of shock and disbelief, I realized Syd was holding me. Peggy walked up behind him, and I handed her the phone.

Someone in the distance, from a neighboring house, was yelling, "What's wrong? Are you okay?"

My body heaved as I cried on Syd's shoulder.

"It's okay," he said gently through his own tears. "Let it out. Cry. Let it out."

From the corner of my eye, I saw Peggy standing in my driveway talking on the phone. She was crying, and she looked as though her knees were going to buckle. It struck me that I must get hold of myself. Marie needs me to be strong. Kevin and Richard need me to be strong. Kevin! Where is Kevin?

With Syd's help, I pulled myself up. Peggy ended the call with Marie. She walked over to me, grief distorting her face. I looked at her questioningly and asked, "Kevin?" Peggy said Marie hadn't heard from him yet. She was still waiting.

I was crying again. Peggy was holding me close when we heard the sound of a car coming up the driveway. It was Alex. He must have left his house the minute I got off the phone with him. He looked pale, and his eyes were red-rimmed. He leaned over and hugged me and apologized for the abrupt way he had gotten off the phone. At that moment, we heard another car slowly approaching. It parked between the Melbournes' house and mine. A young female soldier, looking confused and flustered, got out of the car. Syd and Alex held me steady as I waited for her to put on her dress jacket. She was visibly nervous and fumbled getting it on. Finally, she approached me, her soft, black eyes reflecting compassion and discomfort.

In the doorway, the soldier spoke hesitantly.

"Ma'am," she said solemnly, "I'm sorry to inform you ... "

"It's all right," I said listlessly through a cloud of tears. "I already know." I turned slowly and walked across the yard, picking up my shoes before walking through the door. Alex, Peggy, Syd, and the young soldier walked respectfully behind me.

Once in the doorway, the soldier spoke hesitantly, "Ma'am, I'm sorry, it is my obligation to inform you officially."

I turned to face her, and both of us choked back tears as she fulfilled her duty. She told me Pat was shot in the head getting out of a vehicle. She said he died an hour later in a field hospital. "Did he suffer?" I asked, afraid of what I would hear. The young woman looked at me stunned, not sure what to say.

"He didn't suffer, Dannie," Alex said gently, in an effort to comfort me and aid the young soldier. "He was shot in the head. He wouldn't have been aware of anything."

"Where is Kevin?" I asked as I broke down crying again. "Is Kevin all right?"

She told me Kevin was safe and that he was with his brother when he was killed. I looked at Peggy and saw the horror on her face. I could feel my face contort at the thought of Kevin seeing his brother killed.

"When can I talk to Kevin? Where is he?" I pleaded gently.

The young soldier looked at me helplessly. "I don't know," she replied.

"Dannie," Alex said, tenderly touching my shoulder, "all she has is a casualty report. She doesn't have much information about anything else."

"Pat's dad has to be told," I said to the soldier. "Has he been told yet?"

"No, I don't think so. We have had trouble finding him," she said.

My eyes scan Alex, Peggy, and Syd. "I have to call Patrick."

I walked unsteadily to the phone and dialed Patrick's cell number. He answered quickly.

"Hello." I could tell by his voice he knew nothing.

"Patrick," I said firmly.

"Dan," he said in his usual ironic tone.

"Patrick." I hesitated. "Patrick, Pat's dead. He has been shot in the head."

I was trying to tell him without getting hysterical, but as the words left my mouth they sounded so abrupt, so stunning. I thought I could feel Patrick's shock, and I wanted to take the words back and tell him differently. I should have just asked him to come over, but that would have made him suspicious. He would have forced me to tell him anyway. To my bewilderment, he responded as though I were delusional.

"What? Where did you hear that?" he asked calmly. I tried to tell him when he cut me off. "Dan, I'll be right over."

I hung up, and I looked up at Alex through swollen eyes. "He's coming over right away."

"Is he all right?" Alex asked.

"Yes," I said. "I don't think he believes me."

I sat on the couch with the soldier and Alex while Peggy and Syd went to their house to call my brother and closest friends. I told Alex I was worried about Richard. He was in Los Angeles. There was no way I could give him this news over the phone. I told Alex about Richard's phone message and how he sounded distressed.

"When did he leave the message?" Alex asked.

"At three thirty."

"Well, he couldn't have known then, but it concerns me that this will be on the wire soon."

"I know," I said, staring ahead dazed, terrified of how Richard would be affected by his brother's death. He had been so distraught when Pat and Kevin enlisted, although he had tried so hard over the course of their service to think positively and be supportive. Tears streamed down my face again. The first Christmas after Pat and Kevin enlisted, Kevin had presented Richard with a journal he'd kept of their experiences in boot camp. Pat had written the foreword, and then Kevin had filled the black, feather-bound book with narrative, descriptions, illustrations, and commentary. The journal was so heartfelt and so full of acknowledgments to the people in Kevin's life who meant the most to him that for a while I'd felt a frightening sense of foreboding for him.

Alex and I finished our conversation as the young soldier next to us listened helplessly. After about twenty minutes, Patrick came up the driveway. Alex stood and watched from the window as he walked toward the house. I could see he was perplexed by the cars outside, but I also could tell he hadn't believed what I told him. However, when he entered the house and saw the soldier sitting with me on the couch, his eyes turned wild with horror and shock. Alex and the soldier left the house so we could be alone. Patrick fell to his knees in front of me, crying loudly at first, then softly into my lap. It broke my heart to see his pain. I gently stroked his head, but I was so numb, I had no words of comfort.

After long minutes, Patrick raised his head and gradually composed himself. The soldier came back in with Alex and told Pat's dad what she had told me. He, too, was worried about Kevin and wanted to know where he was and when we could talk to him. Alex explained that no one was sure when we would hear from Kevin, but he assured him Kevin was all right -- physically, anyway.

I told Patrick about Richard's message, and he wondered if our son already knew when he made the phone call. I told him I didn't think he did -- his voice sounded agitated, not frantic or hysterical -- and I didn't want him to be told over the phone or hear about it from the news.

"Now that Marie and you and I know, this is going to go public very soon," Patrick said. "I'm going to fly down there now to tell him. We won't get a flight out of LA because it will be too late, but I'll bring him home as soon as I can."

"Thank you," I said, unable to adequately express my gratitude. "Will you be all right? You're in shock and you're tired."

''I'll be fine," he said. "I just hope I get to Richard in time."

"Be careful," I said, not even wanting to consider he would get to Richard too late. I gave Patrick a hug and watched him get into his car and back out the driveway. I will be forever grateful for his act of love for Richard, and for Pat.

It occurred to me to call Richard's friend Michelle. I would tell her about Pat's death and ask her to try to keep Richard away from the television and computer until his dad arrived. I called her cell several times, but she didn't answer; finally, I left a message asking her to call me back.

I don't recall seeing the soldier leave. She must have driven away when I was talking to Patrick about Richard. What a sobering and difficult job for someone so young. I was certain Alex had seen her off and had expressed gratitude on my behalf.

Alex told me Peggy and Syd were having a difficult time reaching Mike. He wasn't answering his cell phone, and they were having trouble getting connected to his department at United Airlines. Alex went next door to see if he could help.

My face was numb from crying. I walked around the house in a stupor for several minutes, not knowing what to do. I suddenly realized I had to tell my mom. How could I tell her that her grandson was dead? I feared telling her over the phone, but I didn't know what else to do. I picked up the phone and dialed; I got the answering machine. I waited about five minutes, then tried again. This time she picked up, but her voice was barely audible.

"Mom," I said, trying not to cry.

"Dannie, what's going on? Did you reach Alex? Is everything all right?"

"Mom," I said, my voice shaking.

"What's wrong, Dannie?" she asked uneasily.

"Pat's been killed, Mom."

"Oh, God!" she gasped. "Dannie, I had a feeling that's why Alex called. I had a feeling."

"Mom, are you all right?"

"Oh, Dannie. My God, our Pat!"

"I know, Mom," I said, holding back sobs. "Mom, I'll make sure someone picks you up and brings you to my house as soon as I can arrange it. Peggy is trying to reach Mike right now, and he will probably come straight to my house. Can you have a neighbor come sit with you until I can send someone to get you?"

"Yes, I'll call Jerry and Ron across the street," she said anxiously.

"All right. Mom, I'm sorry to tell you over the phone, but I don't know when this will be on the news. I would hate for you to learn that way."

''I'm fine, Dannie. I'll call Jerry and Ron right now."

As I hung up the phone, Alex ran in from Peggy and Syd's.

"Dannie," he said, "Peggy reached the right department at United, but the person who answered said they have no Mike Spalding working there."

I looked at Alex, perplexed. "Mike has worked there for more than ten years ... Oh, wait. Mike goes by Stephen at work. Have her ask for Stephen Spalding."

Alex turned and ran next door. As I stood in the doorway staring dully at the sky, I realized I would have to call work to let my principal know what happened. As I searched my list of faculty phone numbers, I thought about how supportive he had been since Pat and Kevin enlisted. I had worked with Don McCloskey for nearly two years. Before he entered education, he had been in the Air Force and served during the first Gulf War. When Pat and Kevin joined the Army, a friend and coworker, Marsha Walker, already had a son in the Marines. Don's time in the military gave him great empathy for what we were going through. After Pat and Kevin were deployed to Iraq, Don would occasionally walk down to my classroom to chat, ask about them, and see how I was doing. I dialed Don's home number, but the answering machine picked up. Not wanting to leave a message, I decided to call Marsha and ask her to try to contact Don. It was painful to tell her about Pat's death. She was stunned and so saddened. She told me she would make certain Don was told.

Alex returned to tell me that Peggy talked to Mike; he was on his way. Mike has always been devoted to his nephews. The news of Pat and Kevin's decision to enlist troubled him deeply, and he worried about Richard in their absence. He had confided in me just days earlier that he was very distressed that he didn't get to say good-bye to the boys before they left for Afghanistan. He thought he would have time to call them, but then he learned they had already been deployed. I remember he said, "I'll just have to stop feeling bad about not talking to them. I'll have to put that out of my mind and think positive thoughts about them coming back and telling stories about what they saw and did." What must be going through Mike's mind now?

Meanwhile, Alex began intercepting phone calls from friends, family, reporters, and the military. He tried to keep them short. We wanted to keep the line open; Kevin might try to call from Afghanistan.

I heard a car come up the driveway. I looked out the opened door and saw my friend Sherri Greer. I had been holding myself together fairly well, but when I saw Sherri, I broke down in her arms. Sherri had been my assistant -- an indispensable one -- during my first year of teaching at Bret Harte. The following year, she ended up getting a different job at Leland High School, but we remained close. Once Sherri and I stopped crying, we went into the family room. Sherri stayed with me while I sat, exhausted and silent, waiting for Mike.

From the couch, I could hear the sound of Mike's truck coming up the driveway, and I saw the headlights as he pulled in behind Alex's car. I saw his shadowy form walk rapidly across the lawn, and I heard him as he stepped through the front door. Through leaden eyelids and swollen eyes, I watched him as he walked toward me, his arms open.

"Pat's dead, Mike," I cried quietly.

"I know," he said as he held me tight.

Mike held me quietly for a few minutes, then he sat down and I explained what happened. I told him that Pat was shot in the head and died in a field hospital an hour later. Mike clenched his jaw, and moisture clouded his green eyes. I told him we didn't know where Kevin was; we only knew he was safe. I told him Kevin was with Pat when he was killed. Mike stared solemnly at the floor. After a moment, he asked where Patrick was, and I told him he had gone to Los Angeles to tell Richard. Again, I related Richard's message to me earlier in the day. Mike looked at me soberly and said, "I hope he can get there in time. I hate to think of Rich learning this on the news."

I stared vacantly out the window, not wanting to think about it. Mike told me that he called our mom on his way to my house. She told him Patrick's mother called, and one of Patrick's brothers was picking her up to take her to my mother-in-law's house; Patrick had called his mother and told her what had happened. I was so relieved to know that Mom was not going to be alone in her house.

The phone had been ringing almost continuously for three or four hours. Each time it rang, I hoped it was Kevin. A call came in at about nine p.m. Alex walked to the step leading to the family room holding the ringing phone. He scanned the caller ID, then he looked at me, eyes filled with dread. "It's Richard."

"Oh, no!" I gasped. "I can't talk to him. He'll know something's wrong." I looked to Mike.

I could see the tension in Mike's jaw as he took the phone from Alex.

"Hello," Mike said, trying to sound as normal as possible.

"Hello," I heard Richard respond loudly. "Who's this? Is that you, Uncle Mike?"

Mike looked me in the eye and mouthed, "He's been drinking."

I watched Mike's expression, looking for a sign that would tell what Richard knew. Mike listened for a few seconds and shook his head to indicate Richard didn't know anything. I was so relieved. It concerned me that Richard had been drinking, but under the circumstances, it was probably good. I continued to listen to Mike's end of the conversation. I could tell Richard was puzzled as to why Mike was at my house and not at work. Mike told him he took the whole day off to repair shingles for me. Richard was aware that I had been having trouble with my roof during the spring rains, so he accepted that story, but he didn't understand why I wasn't home. Mike told him I had gone to the store, but Richard thought it was odd that I was at the store so late.

"Well," Mike said, "I've been slaving on the roof all day, and I'm hungry. Your mom didn't have any food in the house, so I think she went to Safeway. It's open twenty-four hours."

Richard didn't question that explanation. He and Mike talked a little longer, then Mike hung up. I could see he was devastated about lying to Richard, and I felt horrible for placing him in that position, but I didn't know what else to do. By this time, several of Pat's closest friends, Tony Doran and Jason Haase, arrived to give support. All of us sat vigil by the phone, waiting to hear from Kevin and hoping to learn that Patrick had gotten to Richard in time.

Richard's friend Michelle called after ten p.m. I told her gently that Pat had been killed. It took her long seconds to speak. She had never met Pat or Kevin, but she did get to speak to them on the phone before they were deployed. Michelle knew how close the three of them had always been, and I could sense her compassion and concern for Richard. She told me she would go to his apartment right away.

The phone rang again within minutes; it was Patrick. He said he'd been waiting at Richard's apartment when Richard and his roommate, Eric, had arrived a half hour earlier. He said he had rented a car, and they would soon leave for home. I spoke to Richard for a few seconds. He was in shock, and the pain in his voice devastated me. There was nothing I could do but remind him that I loved him. The phone was still in my hand when Michelle called to ask if it would be intruding for her to fly here the next day. I told her I welcomed her and that I believed Richard would benefit from her presence.

We were all relieved and grateful that Richard and Patrick were on their way home. Sherri sat quietly by my side on the couch while I clutched a framed picture of Pat and Marie to my chest. I stared dully out of the window. It was very dark, but the glow from the porch provided enough light that I could see Alex, Tony, Jason, Mike, and several other figures as they stood talking in the shadows of the yard. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but the hum of their voices put me into a trance. I shuddered when the phone, silent for more than an hour, started to ring again. I don't remember who answered it; I just remember someone called to me gently, "Dannie, it's Kevin."

My chest froze. I had to remind myself to breathe. I placed the photograph on the table and quickly got up. I could feel blood rushing to my arms and legs and my heart pounding. Trembling, I took the phone.

"Kevin!" I said, my voice shaking.

"Mom! Mom!" Kevin said, his voice breaking. "I'm so sorry."

Tears pooled in my eyes, then spilled down my cheeks as I heard the raw pain in his voice. "Kevin, it's not your fault," I said gently.

"Mom, I haven't left Pat's side since we got here to the hospital."

My whole being ached for Kevin, and my body wanted to convulse into sobs. It was clear his thoughts and emotions were in chaos; shock held him together and allowed him to speak. I willed myself not to break down. "I know, Kevin. I know you have been there for him. Who is there with you?"

"There are guys here with me, Mom. There are guys here with me. I am okay. I'm here with Till, Mom. I'm here with Till."

"I'm so grateful you're with Pat, Kevin," I said, my throat burning with anguish and worry. "When are you and Pat coming home?"

"I don't know, Mom. It's too dangerous to fly us out now."

I was seized with panic. "What do you mean, Kevin?" I wanted to scream and the tears poured faster.

"I don't know, Mom. That's what I've been told."

'Just get home as soon as you can," I said, my voice trembling. "I love you, Kevin."

"I love you too, Mom," he said, struggling for composure. "Are Rich and Dad all right?"

"Yes, Kevin. Dad flew to LA to tell Rich in person. They are on their way home." I looked over at my brother and saw the worry on his face. "Kevin, can you talk to Uncle Mike?"

"Yes, Mom -- for just a minute," he said.

"Good-bye, Kevin." I was terrified to let him go.

"Good-bye, Mom. I'll see you soon."

I handed the phone to Mike and sat in a chair while Mike spoke with Kevin. When the conversation ended, Mike placed the phone down and looked me straight in the eye and said firmly, "He'll be all right, Dannie."

I stood up, feeling emotionally and physically depleted. My head throbbed from loss of tears, and my eyes felt like swollen, burning slashes. I walked aimlessly down the hall to my bedroom and closed the door. I lay in bed conscious of the concerned and worried whispers of my brother and friends until, at some point, I fell into a tormented form of sleep.

The roosters crowed around four thirty a.m. I opened my dry eyes, and immediately my heart began to race. For an instant, I hoped I had been having a terrible nightmare, but reality quickly pushed away that hope. I got out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom to wash my face. I looked in the guest room to see if Richard had come home while I was asleep, but it was Mike who was under the covers. In the front of the house I found Sherri asleep on the living room couch; Tony and Jason were sleeping on the floor of the family room. Alex had gone home to be with his young family.

I quietly sat down on the chair. I heard the whine of an engine and looked out the window. A strange car pulled into the driveway. I walked outside and saw Patrick get out of the rental car. I could see Richard's face through the passenger window.

***

Now I look out at my front yard. Tears obscure the place where Patrick parked the rental car two months ago. In my mind's eye, I watch Richard slowly open the door and get out. His face is drawn, and his dark, almond-shaped eyes, so like his big brother's, are red and swollen. He looks tenderly down at me from his six-foot frame, holding his arms wide. In his hands are the journal Kevin had given him, a small double frame with pictures of his brothers, and the inscribed axe Pat presented him for being a best man at his wedding.

I slowly approach him as he envelops me in his arms and cries softly into my shoulder.
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