The latest report gives more details about what happened from the soldier who was beside Cpl. Tillman when he died. He described the man known by many as a strong, caring man who did not put anyone down at all.
As bullets flew above their heads, the young soldier at Pat Tillman's side started praying. "I thought I was praying to myself, but I guess he heard me," Sgt. Bryan O'Neal recalled in an interview Saturday with The Associated Press. "He said something like, 'Hey, O'Neal, why are you praying? God can't help us now."'But some unnamed chaplain gave a different version of the story. Why is the chaplain's name blacked out? I could understand those who talked with the chaplain, but why black out the chaplain's name. Perhaps there was not a chaplain. Perhaps this was just a smear on Pat Tillman.
Tillman's intent, O'Neal said, was to "more or less put my mind straight about what was going on at the moment."
"He said, 'I've got an idea to help get us out of this,"' said O'Neal, who was an 18-year-old Army Ranger in Tillman's unit when the former NFL player was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004.
O'Neal said Tillman, a corporal, threw a smoke grenade to identify themselves to fellow soldiers who were firing at them. Tillman was waving his arms shouting "Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat (expletive) Tillman, damn it!" again and again when he was killed, O'Neal said.
A chaplain who debriefed the entire unit days after Tillman's death later described this exchange to investigators conducting a criminal probe of the incident. But O'Neal strongly disputes portions of the chaplain's testimony, outlined in some 2,300 pages of transcripts released to the AP this week by the Defense Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.I wonder who in the unit the chaplain talked to (if there was any chaplain involved at all). With the troubles occurring with the chaplains in the Army lately, one cannot know who to believe. And the largest group of chaplains in the military belong to evangelical pentecostal denominations who have little love for atheists.
The chaplain told investigators that O'Neal said Tillman was harsh in his last moments, snapping, 'Would you shut your (expletive) mouth? God's not going to help you; you need to do something for yourself, you sniveling ..."
"He never would have called me 'sniveling,"' O'Neal said. "I don't remember ever speaking to this chaplain, and I find this characterization of Pat really upsetting. He never once degraded me. He's the only person I ever worked for who didn't degrade anyone. He wasn't that sort of person."
The chaplain's name is blacked out in the documents.
Soldiers and commanders who worked with Tillman have repeatedly testified that he was respected, admired and well-liked.This sort of makes one wonder if there were those in Cpl. Tillman's unit who wanted him dead. Perhaps not O'Neal, but the ones doing the shooting and just maybe pretending not to recognize who they were shooting at. Just maybe I'm too cynical about the whole incident. But having been at the receiving end of death threats issued to my face by these sorts of Christians, I'm not surprised by the amount of hate carried by "God's enforcers".
In the same testimony, medical examiners said the bullet holes in Tillman's head were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.
O'Neal said the shooters were "close, close enough for me to recognize them, but they sure weren't 10 yards away. They were further than that. I've thought about this plenty of times. They wouldn't have been more than 50 yards away."