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'The Tillman Story': One Family's Quest For The Truth
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'The Tillman Story': One Family's Quest For The Truth



When pro football star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, he was hailed by the Bush administration as a hero who died in combat. But it didn't take long for a more complicated story to emerge after Tillman's family challenged the Army's version of events.

Bob Mondello says a new documentary,�"The Tillman Story," chronicles the uncovering of a cover-up.

BOB MONDELLO: A few months after the World Trade Center bombings in 2001, all-star defensive back Pat Tillman walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army. He was perhaps the most famous enlisted man in the armed services, lionized when news came two years later that he'd been killed in an ambush by the Taliban. His actions, said military sources, saved his comrades. The media drumbeat was insistent and heroic.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Tillman Story")

Unidentified Man #1: Tillman ordered his men up a hill to attack terrorists that had pinned down part of his platoon.

Unidentified Man #2: Tillman's voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to the enemy forces.

MONDELLO: None of this was true. Tillman died by friendly fire, and at least one of his fellow soldiers says there were no enemy forces present. Tillman's family said they learned weeks later that the inspiring story the military had circulated was a fabrication, based on reports the government knew to be false. The film shows a paper trail that seems to trace that knowledge of falsehood high into the Bush administration.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Tillman Story")

Mr. JOSH BROLIN (Actor): (Narrating) General Stanley McChrystal had sent the P4 Memo on April 29th, after White House speechwriters had requested details about Pat's death from the Pentagon.

MONDELLO: That memo, says Tillman's mother, is evidence that the government knew early on what the family discovered later: that the official story was a lie.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Tillman Story")

Unidentified Woman: The P4 Memo states they must warn the president about this because they'll be giving speeches and that they shouldn't be embarrassed if - if the circumstances of Pat's death become public.

Mr. BROLIN: (Narrating) The warnings seemed to work. In a speech given two days before the memorial service, the president avoided the very details of Pat's death that his speechwriters had requested.

MONDELLO: Meanwhile, Tillman's wife, Marie, was resisting pressure�to turn the family's private funeral into an occasion for patriotic grandstanding and full military honors.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Tillman Story")

Mr. BROLIN: (Narrating) During basic training, Pat had a premonition that if he died, he might be used as a public relations stunt. So he had smuggled a copy of his final wishes home to Marie.

Ms. MARIE TILLMAN: I really had to kind of push back on them. They were just sort of proceeding as if this was the way things were going to happen probably thinking that, you know, I was so grief stricken that I would just go along with it.

MONDELLO: Director Amir Bar-Lev finds a riveting detective story here -how the family�forced an Army investigation�and then forced Congress to investigate that investigation, each time with additional embarrassing admissions from public officials.

"The Tillman Story"�is ferocious filmmaking, but wouldn't have half the force it does if the director didn't also get at the complicated man Pat Tillman was: the football star who volunteered to serve in a war he later doubted the logic for, the avowed atheist who read the Book of Mormon. As you get a sense of Tillman the man, you better understand his family's fury at the flag-waving being done in his name.

And when the director finally takes his camera to the rocky, barren valley where Tillman died and recreates how the military now says that happened, all hope of clarity evaporates. The notion of an accidental shooting in battle conjures images of murky sightlines, stray shots coming out of nowhere. But when you see the actual terrain - where Tillman was standing, where his comrades were - hard to say how the tragedy happened, but harder to imagine it happening the way they say.

You emerge from�"The Tillman Story"�feeling a little of what the Tillman family must: that the whole truth about their son's death hasn't yet been told, and may never be.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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