Taking the Hill with Patrick Murphy   |  April 27, 2014

Pat Tillman's legacy: 10 years later

Marie Tillman, the widow of Pat Tillman, talks about the legacy of her husband, who was killed in Afghanistan accidentally by members of his own platoon.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> i'm patrick murphy . thank you for joining us. we have a lot of ground to make today on developing stories.

>>> a tough week for the military. shocking allegations that 40 veterans died at the medical system as they were put on a phantom waiting list. just this thursday in afghanistan , three american civilians were killed trying to help the afghan people . is america's longest war coming to an end? we'll have the compelling story of wounded, the battle back home. today's installment follows two best friends and battle buddies who found each other in the darkest days of their recoveries.

>>> but first, the story of one of my personal heroes who was killed in afghanistan ten years ago this past week.

>> to his teammates, he was number 40 . to his brothers, he was a champion. and months after 9/11 when pat tillman walked away from a $3.6 million nfl contract to serve as an army ranger , earning $16,000 a year, to america, and the military, he was a legend. ten years ago on april 22nd , 2000 had, tillman was on patrol in a remote canyon in eastern afghanistan . what happened next is still disputed. the initial story told to tillman 's family is he came under what the military called devastating enemy fire and was killed by the taliban as he defended his ranger brothers. at a memorial in his hometown, crowds gathered and politicians eulogized him as an american hero .

>> service to his country was to remind us all what courage really looks like.

>> reporter: his younger brother richard remembered him as his personal hero.

>> he's a champion, and always will be.

>> reporter: tillman was awarded the silver star for, quote, gallantry against the enemy of the united states . it was not the enemy that killed him. more than a month after pat tillman 's death, his family learned he was actually killed accidently by members of his own plato platoon, and his fellow soldiers were told to cover it up.

>> i was ordered not to tell them what happened. he basically just said, sir, that do not let kevin know, he's probably in a bad place knowing his brother is dead.

>> reporter: his family and some lawmakers believe that the bush administration and pentagon wanted to draw attention away from the war in iraq and the abu ghraib prison scandal .

>> it's a disservice to the nation. the nation needs to realize, this is an ugly war and we shouldn't be allowed to have smoke screens thrown in our face.

>> what happened that day in eastern afghanistan ? a 2007 report from the pentagon inspector general found tillman 's own platoon mistook his team for the enemy and fired on them from a canyon below. no enemy shellcasings were found in the area.

>> we have a duty to all families for our fellow soldiers. we failed in that. his army and his comrades in arms are deeply sorry.

>> in the end, retired three- star general was censured for his part. but the bush administration denies that it played any role.

>> it was badly handled, and errors were made. but in no instance has any evidence of a cover-up, to use the phrase you used, been presented or put forward.

>> for the tillman family, though, that has never been enough.

>> pat's death at the hands of his comrades is a terrible tragedy. but the fact that the army in what appears to be others appeared to hijack his virtue and his legacy is simply horrific.

>> over 20 years ago, when i joined the united states army , accountability of yourself, accountability of your weapon, and accountability for your team. general patton talked about accountability. not just accountability from the bottom up, but also from the top down. you are responsible for your soldiers. ten years ago when pat tillman was killed, i was back in my second employment at fort bragg , north carolina , when we heard of his death. it broke our hearts. to hear the bush administration in defense donald rumsfeld give his account, made me sick. there's only one side of the coin. pat tillman 's legacy survives. courageous americans like his wife, marie, give us hope that his life was not in vain. i had the honor to sit down with her this week. so, who was pat tillman ?

>> you know, i think that the great thing about pat is that his life and his memory sort of means different things to different people. but he was definitely someone who lived with passion and purpose. he was one of those people where what you see is what you get. and i think one of the great things about him that even as he started to get attention for playing football, and was sort of out there in the public eye, he was always the same guy. i think that's something that people were attracted to.

>> you were with him when 9/11 happened.

>> mm-hmm.

>> how did 9/11 affect him?

>> you know, i think like a lot of americans , it was a time for him, and for all of us, to sort of take a step back and reevaluate what we were doing with our lives. and for him in particular, it was -- you know, a time where he felt like he wanted to refocus his life, and his work.

>> and so he has a contract with the nfl. he has an offer to stay for three years. and he gives that up eight months after 9/11 to enlist.

>> it was something that he put a lot of thought, and, you know, did some research, and was really thoughtful about his decision. and actually, it was a time where he was not under contract. and he was sort of in between coming off a contract with the cardinals, and so i think for him, things just sort of aligned.

>> when you came back from your honeymoon, he announced to his team that he was going to enlist. how did they take it?

>> there was certainly the element of shock. but for most people who knew him, i really don't think that they were that surprised. it was something that was very much in line with who he was.

>> and how did that decision affect you, and your young marriage?

>> you know, it was a big change for us. we were living in phoenix at the time. and after he enlisted, we moved up to washington state . he was stationed in ft.t was a big change as far as location, you know. i had to find a new job. we didn't know anybody up there. but i think that at the time we really saw it as sort of an adventure.

>> when you look at the afghanistan war , the longest war in american history , yet less than 1% of americans have served in the war.

>> yeah, i definitely felt the disconnect. we were stationed in ft. lewis and lived right off of base. but i worked downtown seattle , which is, you know, not a military town by any stretch of the imagination. so, you know, i definitely felt that disconnect between what we were going through at the time, particularly when pat was deployed, and the people that i encountered on a daily basis. i think there has been effort to try and sort of bridge that gap. but i do think it still exists. for me at that time, i was young, too. you know, so a lot of my -- the people that i worked with, and my friends at work, you know, in their late 20s. and just very different -- very different lives. which was just so obvious to me, particularly when pat was overseas.

>> what would you say that the pat tillman foundation, what is its mission?

>> it's really pat's living legacy. it's for all of our scholars around the country that his spirit lives on. it's been fulfilling to be able to work to help these individuals, and see that really -- the ripple effect. we're moving into our sixth selection of scholars this year. we've averaged around 60 per year that we've chosen. and starting a variety of things. so there are higher education , everything from bachelor's degrees up to, you know, ph.d. candidates. it's a really great group of people. i think that each of them has their own amazing story. and the thing that sort of joins them, though, is this continued desire to serve. so, you know, they're transitioning home. they're no longer in uniform, but there is this sincere desire to get back and make an impact, in whatever area it is they're going into.

>> you look at, there's been a little over 2.5 million veterans from the iraq and afghanistan war . half a million suffer from injuries from the wars, one of which is ptsd. have you foundation that's a challenge in the veterans community?

>> i definitely see it as a challenge in the veteran's community. we do see a large portion of our scholars that are focused on mental health specifically within that space. for us, it's a smaller organization. our hope is that by supporting our individual scholars who many of them are focused in those very areas, we have a lot focused on giving back to the veteran community, that we can help empower those individuals to have a large impact in some of those areas. one of the amazing things about the work with the foundation is that people do reach out, and tell us about how pat has served as an inspiration somehow in their life. and so through that, he's able to really live on in so many ways. i hope that continues.

>> my thanks to marie tillman and the pat tillman foundation.

>>> coming up, a story hard to imagine. allegations against a va hospital that have lawmakers demanding answers. make sure you join the conversation using the