Pat and Marie Tillman.

Pat and Marie Tillman.

In 2003, Pat Tillman wrote a “just in case” letter to his wife before leaving for Afghanistan to serve with the Army Rangers. The former NFL football player was killed while on duty on April 22, 2004. The military first blamed an enemy ambush, and later revealed Tillman was killed by friendly fire. Years of inquiries and hearings into his death followed. During this time, Marie Tillman tried to stay out of the media as she dealt with her grief. She talks about her new book, “The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss and Life.”


  • Marie Tillman President and cofounder of the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Photos Of Pat And Marie Tillman

Copyright © 2012 by Marie Tillman. Used by arrangement with Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from “The Letter” by Marie Tillman. Copyright © 2012 by Marie Tillman. Used by arrangement with Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.


  • 11:06:57

    MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's off today. Marie Tillman has been through what many military wives has. She lost her husband in Afghanistan. What makes her story different is that her husband was former NFL football player Pat Tillman. Marie has written a book about how she dealt with her grief in the midst of years of inquiries and media attention over his death. It's titled "The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss and Life." And Marie Tillman joins me from WBEZ in Chicago. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:07:36

    MS. MARIE TILLMANOh, thank you. Nice to be here.

  • 11:07:38

    PAGEWe're inviting our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll free number 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email to, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Marie, you have been private for so long since your husband's death in Afghanistan. Why did you decide to step forward now and write this book?

  • 11:08:07

    PAGEYou know, it took me many years to get to this point. But when I was going through some of my most difficult times, I really sought out stories of people who had overcome difficulty. And as I was more able to, you know, deal with my grief and go out into the world, I met a lot of people that I was able to connect with. And a couple years ago, it dawned on me that my story might be able to help other people as well. And that's really what prompted me to write the book.

  • 11:08:36

    PAGEAnd, you know, the book is titled "The Letter" and it begins -- the book opens with the day that you learned that your husband had been killed. And you had what you called a just-in-case letter that he had written before he was first deployed to Iraq. I wonder if you might read just a portion of the book -- that section right from close to the beginning of the book.

  • 11:09:05

    TILLMAN"Nothing about the day seemed real except for this letter that I could touch and feel. It was both precious and awful. The last communication I'd ever have with Pat. I sat holding it for many minutes then I carefully opened the seal. My breath caught and I paused for another moment with my eyes closed. I slowly faltered, excuse me, flattened the letter on my lap. It had been so carefully folded. I pictured the slow child-like way his oversized hands moved when put to a delicate task.

  • 11:09:39

    TILLMANIt was one of the traits I loved most about him, the imposing exterior masking the most gentle soul. I recognized his familiar scrawl and smiled. I was ready. I heard his voice as I read silently. "It's difficult to summarize 10 years together, my love for you, my hope for your future and pretend to be dead, all at the same time. I simply cannot put all this into words. I'm not ready, willing or able." The words turned my head inside out. If he couldn't imagine dying, it must mean that he was coming back alive.

  • 11:10:16

    TILLMANMy heart lifted. Crazy logic overwhelmed me. The page was a mess of ink and scribbles, of words and sentences crossed out. Rather than throw the letter away, he'd saved it. His thought process transparent, I could see his mind wrestling and even if it wasn't some perfect piece of prose, I liked it much better this way. Not perfect, but real. Among the scribblings stood out these sudden words "through the years I've asked a great deal of you. Therefore it should surprise you little that I have another favor to ask. I ask that you live."

  • 11:10:53

    PAGEThat's Marie Tillman reading from her new book "The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss and Life." That was such a terrible day for you when you heard your husband had died. And it had such reverberations across the country. Why do you think that's so -- what do you think Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan meant to so many Americans?

  • 11:11:15

    TILLMANWell, you know, I think that really his decision to leave his NFL career behind and join the military was something that really resonated with people across the country. I think after September 11 there were a lot of people who took a step back and sort of reprioritized things in their life and maybe decided to make different decisions like Pat did. And so when he was then killed overseas, I think it was just really a big shock to a lot of people.

  • 11:11:46

    TILLMANWhen he enlisted, there had been a lot of interest in it. What had he done about that interest at the point he enlisted?

  • 11:11:57

    TILLMANYou know, there was a lot of attention that was put on him after he enlisted. And really he decided to stay focused on the decision that he had made and not to engage with a lot of the media inquiries, but just to prepare himself to join the military and to go overseas.

  • 11:12:14

    PAGENow, of course, he was around to deal with that. But at the time he was killed, there was only his family to absorb all that media attention. What did you feel -- how did you handle all the interest around his death?

  • 11:12:29

    TILLMANIt was, you know, it was really something that was difficult for me. I think that, you know, dealing with something that was so private, the loss of him and having it play out in such a public way was something that, for me, I really sort of, you know, went in and decided not to engage in a lot of that.

  • 11:12:49

    PAGEAnd so what did you do?

  • 11:12:51

    TILLMANYou know, I relied on the support of my friends and family and really stayed focused on the people that were around me to help me through.

  • 11:13:00

    PAGEAnd, you know, one of the things that became complicating was when it turned out that the U.S. military had misrepresented the circumstances of his death. Tell us how you learned about that.

  • 11:13:14

    TILLMANIt was about a month after I was originally told that he was killed. And his brother Kevin actually, who was serving with him, had come home from being on base and had said, you know, I think that they're doing an investigation, but they think that Pat was killed by friendly fire. So, you know, it was definitely a shock for us.

  • 11:13:35

    PAGEHad you suspected that at all? In the previous month, had you thought, oh, I have questions about how this actually happened?

  • 11:13:42

    TILLMANNo, I really hadn't thought that anything was different going on then what I had been originally told.

  • 11:13:48

    PAGEYeah. And you write that this turned grief into complicated grief. Now, of course, grief is complex under any circumstances, but you mean a particular thing when you say complicated grief. What do you mean?

  • 11:14:02

    TILLMANYou know, I think that I had done a little bit of research about it just after, you know, as I was dealing with my grief and sort of learning about that process and the different things that people go through and how they deal with it. And, you know, I think it is, in many ways, an individual journey and process. But there are certain similarities that people go through. And certainly for me after he was originally -- I was originally told he was killed, there was that process of coming to terms with it and sort of realizing, you know, that he was gone and starting to build that in my mind so that I could start to move forward.

  • 11:14:43

    TILLMANAnd I think that, you know, then 30 days later hearing that he had been killed differently, it just took me back to, you know, where I was in the beginning and certainly made me question all of the things that I was being told.

  • 11:14:57

    PAGEOne of the interesting things you write about is the different ways that you and Pat's mother handled this period after his death and once the questions were raised about whether the Army had told you the truth. Talk about that. Talk about the different ways you and your mother-in-law dealt with this.

  • 11:15:16

    TILLMANYou know, I think that I'm so grateful to her for, you know, the fight that she put forth to find out what really happened to him. And she was really behind all of that and really just a force to be reckoned with. And she's to be given credit for much of the information that we did find out. And in a lot of ways, you know, her ability to take that on at a really difficult time allowed me to focus a little bit more on myself and allowed me to deal with my grief in a very private way and to start to figure out how I was going to put the pieces back together.

  • 11:15:57

    PAGEYou ended up moving to New York, partly to get away a little bit from kind of the environment of grief. Tell us about your move to New York.

  • 11:16:10

    TILLMANAbout a year and a half, I guess, after Pat was killed, I had still been living in Washington State, which is where we were stationed. And I just -- I felt like I needed a change and always wanted to move to New York. So I was able, through the job that I was working at the time, to transfer to the office in Manhattan. And so I took the opportunity and just sort of threw myself into, you know, this big, crazy city, which was in hindsight one of the best decisions I could ever make.

  • 11:16:39

    PAGEAnd why do you think it was such a good decision to make?

  • 11:16:43

    TILLMANYou know it just -- it gave me an opportunity to get out of my environment and really to just emerge (sic) myself in the city. And New York is a place where there's a lot of chaos and commotion and people and, you know, I felt like I could be anonymous in a lot of ways and just start to, you know, go out into the world a little bit more.

  • 11:17:07

    PAGEAnd now you have -- then you moved back to California. How did you make the decision to do that?

  • 11:17:13

    TILLMANThe move back to California was after several years when I was feeling, you know, a little bit better and feeling like I wanted to be closer to my friends and family that live on the West Coast.

  • 11:17:26

    PAGEAnd you're now, in fact, have taken over leadership or taken over a leadership position at the Pat Tillman Foundation. That's something that you didn't feel like you wanted to do for a couple of years. What happened that made you want to do that?

  • 11:17:36

    TILLMANIt was, you know, I was always really happy with the work that the Foundation was doing and happy with the opportunity to take this experience and do something positive with it and to do something in Pat's memory that was, you know, benefiting other people. But in the beginning, it was really difficult for me to be out there front and center and be, you know, sort of in the public eye as it related to the Foundation.

  • 11:18:00

    TILLMANSo after many years -- you know, when the investigations were over and I felt much more ready in my own life to take that on, I decided to take a much more sort of public role within the organization. And it's been great. I really enjoy the work that we do there with veterans.

  • 11:18:18

    PAGEWe're talking to Marie Tillman. Her new book "The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss and Life." When we come back after a short break, we'll talk about the work of the Pat Tillman Foundation. We'll also take your calls. Our phone lines are now open 1-800-433-8850. Give us a call. You can also send us an email at or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:05

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking this hour with Marie Tillman. She's president and cofounder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. She's the widow of the Arizona Cardinals football player and Army Ranger, Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. And she's here talking about her new book. Her book is called "The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss and Life." We're going to go to the phones in just a few minutes. 1-800-433-8850. We'll take some of your calls and comments. Marie, first, let's step back and tell us how you met Pat Tillman. How old were you?

  • 11:20:44

    TILLMANYou know, we grew up in the same small community in Northern California and we, you know, we started dating when we were in high school, but we had pretty much known each other most of our lives, just the ways that things are in a small community like that. You sort of, you know, cross paths on a regular basis.

  • 11:21:02

    PAGEAnd you started dating when you were in high school?

  • 11:21:04

    TILLMANWe did. Yeah.

  • 11:21:06

    PAGEAnd then stuck together all through that. Tell us about the start of his football career.

  • 11:21:12

    TILLMANSo Pat went to Arizona State where he played college football and then was drafted to the Cardinals. And, you know, so stayed in Arizona, which was great. There was, you know, so many people in the valley that loved watching him in college and continued that through his professional career. And I moved out there after he was drafted.

  • 11:21:33

    PAGEDo you -- did you and he assume that this would be his life's career to be playing professional football?

  • 11:21:40

    TILLMANYou know, we knew that it was something that he loved to do and that he would do for as long as he could is what I thought. But I always knew that football was a part of who he was, but not totally who he was and that he would probably, once he was done with his professional career, move on to something else.

  • 11:21:59

    PAGEDid he know what that would be?

  • 11:22:02

    TILLMANYou know, I mean, he was 25 when he left football and, you know, very much just sort of starting out in life. So it wasn't clear exactly what direction he was going to head in.

  • 11:22:13

    PAGENow, it was clear that the 9/11 attacks had such a profound effect on him, he decided to join the Army. Not really a logical decision really, an emotional one, do you think?

  • 11:22:26

    TILLMANYeah. I mean, I think in a lot of ways it was an emotional decision that's -- or an emotion that sparked it all. But certainly he put a lot of thought and planning into the decision and the effect it would have on our lives.

  • 11:22:40

    PAGEAnd the families were not -- his family was not so pleased when they heard that he intended to enlist in the Army. What happened then?

  • 11:22:51

    TILLMANYou know, I think that or I would imagine for most families, it's a difficult decision when a child decides to join the military, particularly now when we're, you know, at war. And I think the thing that's difficult about it is it is such that mix of pride and terror that you feel, you know. Pride that your child is wanting to serve their country in that way, but of course, the fear of sending them off.

  • 11:23:20

    PAGEAnd his first deployment was to Iraq. What did he think about the war in Iraq?

  • 11:23:29

    TILLMANYou know, he definitely had misgivings about the war in Iraq and I think that being deployed and being over there was difficult for him. It was, you know, when he had made the decision to join the army after September 11, it was a little bit different situation. We weren't in Iraq yet. And it was difficult.

  • 11:23:52

    PAGEDid he, you know, it seems like from reading the book that he was a little older than the other men with whom he was serving and it seemed like he took a somewhat more independent line of thought in looking at what was happening in the military. Is that fair? Do you think that's right?

  • 11:24:07

    TILLMANYou know, I don't know if I would categorize it that way. He certainly was older than a lot of the people that he served with. He, you know, being out of college and then having played professionally for a number of years and he enlisted, which is a little bit unusual. So a lot of the other men and women that were coming out were coming from, you know, high school and enlisting.

  • 11:24:32

    PAGEYou know you write that there was a point where you were driving I think outside Fort Lewis and you saw an anti-war demonstration and you thought about joining it yourself. Tell us about that.

  • 11:24:45

    TILLMANYou know, I think it is a difficult position that a lot of family members are in, particularly if you are unsure about the wars and what's going on. And, you know, the whole experience -- what really I realized at that time is how important it is to be engaged and be involved and, you know, stand up for what you think and feel is going on and that, you know, really when the men and women who serve our country decide to do so, they are signing over their lives. They are putting their lives in the hands of the American people and, you know, the government that's making decisions on where they'll go. So it's a huge responsibility I think we all have as citizens to the men and women who serve.

  • 11:25:31

    PAGEOne of the things you write about is his concern that if he was killed in action that his death would somehow be used for political purposes by the government. What did he think about that?

  • 11:25:46

    TILLMANYou know, I think that because he was such a high profile enlistee, of course, there was concern about that and I think that, you know, just as we've seen sort of since he was killed, the amount of attention that's been given to his death.

  • 11:26:04

    PAGEAnd you write that the -- there was a time when someone from the Army came and said that he wanted to have a military funeral and you said, no, he didn't. It was lucky, I guess, that he had copied his papers so that you could go get them. What happened in that incident?

  • 11:26:23

    TILLMANYou know, I think that certainly there was sort of a lot of commotion around after he was killed. And I think that there was a desire to sort of go through with a military funeral, at least from what I understood. But it wasn't what he wanted and I was thankful that we were able to put together a memorial that honored him in the way that he wanted.

  • 11:26:47

    PAGELet's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to Cedar City, Utah and talk to Darryl. Darryl, hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:26:57

    DARRYLHi. I'm really sorry for your loss, Marie. I think it's so noble that a man of such stature and his career that he could just give that up, I suppose, and serve our nation.

  • 11:27:39

    PAGEAll right, Darryl. Thank you so much for your call. You know, Marie, you talked about the concern that his family had about his decision to enlist. Did you think it was a good idea?

  • 11:27:48

    TILLMANYou know, it was something that I was definitely supportive of in hindsight. You know, I think I was probably a little bit naive as well. Certainly, the events from September 11 had an impact on me as well. And you know, it was really something that we believed was the right thing to do at the time and we felt sort of joined in this journey to, you know, have him join the military and be a part of what was going on in this country at the time, you know, in that way.

  • 11:28:17

    PAGEAll right. Let's go to Mary. She's calling us from Charlotte, N.C. Mary you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:28:26

    MARYMarie, I admire you so much and I think Pat is one of the most honorable men our country has ever seen.

  • 11:28:34

    TILLMANWell, thank you.

  • 11:28:34

    MARYBut my question is -- that he had such a perfect moral compass, don't you all feel betrayed by the government who lied about the way he died until they were caught up on it?

  • 11:28:57

    PAGEAll right. Mary, thanks very much for calling us.

  • 11:28:59

    TILLMANYeah. You know, I certainly I spent many years very angry about what happened to him and the way that things played out. But for me I knew that in order for me to really honor his life and to move forward with mine in the way that he wanted me to I had to be able to let some of that go and move forward in a positive way.

  • 11:29:21

    PAGEThere was a congressional -- there were Congressional hearings into Pat's death. You came to Washington for those.

  • 11:29:27


  • 11:29:28

    PAGEAnd what did you think about those?

  • 11:29:32

    TILLMANYou know, it's a very -- it was a very bizarre experience for me. Obviously to sit in the back of a, you know, room like that and have these Congressional hearings going on about the death of my husband who, you know, at point in time I was just really trying to deal with the day-to-day impact of that and, you know, how do I get up and go to work every day and try to figure out what it is that I'm going to do with my life.

  • 11:29:59

    PAGEYou write about some real anger you felt when Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defense Secretary, was testifying. What did he say?

  • 11:30:09

    TILLMANWell certainly, you know, sort of the collective group that was there -- in many ways I felt like there was not any accountability that was, you know, put forth and there was a lot of people saying that they weren't sure and they didn't know and they had no knowledge of what went on.

  • 11:30:27

    PAGEAnd do you think that there's been accountability now?

  • 11:30:33

    TILLMANYou know it's hard to say. I think that, you know, it was certainly a frustrating process for us. I didn't feel like in the end there was much accountability that was accomplished. But again I just came to a point in my life where I felt like I needed to move past that and I needed to move forward. And really this book is much more about my journey and how you deal with the grief. You know for anybody who has lost someone. Not we have sort of particular circumstances around the death of Pat but I think that when you're talking about grief and loss, you know, it's difficult in many situations.

  • 11:31:18

    PAGEYeah. Let's talk to Aaron calling us from Washington, D.C. Hi you're on the air.

  • 11:31:24

    AARONHi. Marie, first of all, thank you for your courage and dealing with what a lot of people who you just mentioned go through loss. My question is a bit more personal and I'd understand if you don't want to complete the answers. I lost my father about 24 years ago to suicide. He didn't leave anything like what Pat left for you to hang onto with the memories and how he was feeling and what he was feeling at that time. And yet I sense a bit of a tremble in your voice every time you talk about it. How do you deal with the daily grief of not having the person you love, not being able to say goodbye and just processing that? If you could just talk about that and I'll take my answer off the phone.

  • 11:32:18

    PAGEAll right, Aaron, thank you so much for giving us a call.

  • 11:32:22

    TILLMANYou know, I'm sorry for your loss as well. It is a difficult journey and I think it's one that is something that you deal with every day. Time does help to a certain extent. But I'm sure you've found, you know, one of the things that's been -- I've noticed is that it's actually in the happy times that I miss him the most. Those times when something really great happens and I realize that he's not there to tell him about it or to let him know what's going on.

  • 11:32:49

    TILLMANSo, you know, I think that it -- grief is a long and messy process and it's something that unfortunately you deal with your entire life. But, you know, what's been really helpful for me is to be able to turn that into something positive in the world and to be able to, you know, take this life that he lived and use it to help others really has been the key for me.

  • 11:33:15

    PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, let's talk for a moment about the Pat Tillman Foundation. Now you didn't kind of set out to establish it. It was just that people started to send you money because they wanted to do something after his death. So how did you decide to move forward with the Pat Tillman Foundation?

  • 11:33:35

    TILLMANYeah, it was certainly never something that I really set out to do. And, you know, now eight years later I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to do the work that I do. We focus on veterans and their spouses and provide educational scholarships for them. And really, you know, it's one of those things that I had such a great experience with many of the people in the military in the community that surrounds it and, you know, I think that there's so much value in service and the people who serve our country. And so now for us to be able to give back to that community and help them come home and transition and get an education and then move forward in their lives and continue to be leaders in their communities is really, really a great thing for me.

  • 11:34:24

    PAGEWe had the 4th of July celebrations yesterday and a lot of rhetoric thanking veterans for their service and those who are serving now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you think we do pretty well by the -- as a nation for the veterans who are now coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan or not?

  • 11:34:43

    TILLMANYou know, I think there are many areas we could improve upon, of course. But I do think that particularly now in this country, it is something that is in the forefront and I think that there are a lot of great organizations and people that are working to help veterans coming home. Let's go to Long Island and talk to Morgan. Morgan, thank you for giving us a call.

  • 11:35:04

    MORGANYes, I want to compliment you. You sound like you don't have any bitterness in you. But there are citizens like myself who are still very angry at the military and especially General McChrystal for his cover up. He knew it was not a true story and he used it as a recruiting tool and I just think it's abominable. He never paid a direct price for that dishonesty to the American public and to Pat Tillman. Thank you very much.

  • 11:35:29

    PAGEThank you, Morgan. What would you say to Morgan, Marie?

  • 11:35:32

    TILLMANYou know, I think that there are a lot of people that feel that way and it is difficult to not become bitter and to not be angry and, you know, to find a way to make something positive out of all of this. But for me, that was just a choice I knew that I had to make in order to move forward.

  • 11:35:53

    PAGEDo you feel not at all bitter now about the misrepresentation of his death?

  • 11:36:00

    TILLMANYou know, it's really not something that I focus on. My focus is on the work that I do every day with the Foundation and the veterans and their spouses that are coming home. And really my focus on, you know, what are the positive things that I can bring into the world.

  • 11:36:16

    PAGEYou write that you went to Afghanistan for the USO. Tell us about that trip. What were you doing on that trip?

  • 11:36:25

    TILLMANYou know, it was really a great experience for me. I was fortunate enough to go on a USO tour to Afghanistan and the NFL had actually donated some money to the USO to put together a USO center in Bagram and they named it after Pat. So I was able to visit the center and talk with the people who work there and the soldiers that, you know, spend time there. And it was really a great experience just to see, you know, the impact that he's still having there and to talk to the men and women and hear their stories.

  • 11:36:58

    PAGEYou write that they asked you as you were leaving if it was all right if the remains of a soldier would be taken out on the flight that you were going to be on. What did you think about that?

  • 11:37:08

    TILLMANIn many ways, it was, you know, sort of full circle for me. Certainly, I was thinking about when Pat came home and how, you know, this was probably how he left Afghanistan.

  • 11:37:21

    PAGEWe're going to take another short break and when we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Marie Tillman about her new book "The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss and Life." And we'll go back to the phones. We'll take your calls and we'll read some of your emails. You can send us an email at or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:05

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA today sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking this hour with Marie Tillman. She's the widow of Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals football player and army ranger who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. She joins us from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago. Marie lots of emails with questions about the cover up, the misrepresentation of the circumstances of Pat's death.

  • 11:40:31

    PAGEAnd here's one from Roger in Alta, Utah who asks, "Have you ever had an apology from the army?"

  • 11:40:38

    TILLMANNo, I've never seen an apology.

  • 11:40:41

    PAGEWould you like to have an apology?

  • 11:40:44

    TILLMANYou know, at this point in time, to me it's a little too little too late. You know, certainly I've come to terms with what has happened and chosen to move forward in my life. And really that's what this book is about. It's how do you put your life back together. How do you find the light in the little things -- in the every day -- and really find a sense of peace and happiness to move forward.

  • 11:41:13

    PAGEDo you feel that you've found peace and happiness?

  • 11:41:17

    TILLMANI do. You know, I feel like I have been able to come to a really great place where I feel fulfilled by the work that I do. And I have, you know, family and friends and a lot of really great things in my life now.

  • 11:41:32

    PAGEWe have a similar email from Guy who writes to complain or to note that President Obama appointed General McChrystal to head the advisory board for the joining forces program, despite his role in the cover up of your husband's friendly fire death. And he notes that Pat's mother, Mary, called that a slap in the face to appoint this man. I wonder have -- Guy asked have you ever spoken to General McChrystal about his role?

  • 11:42:00

    TILLMANNo, I haven't.

  • 11:42:02

    PAGEAnd, you know, we have a couple emailers, interestingly, who ask about your husband's religion and Bill from Dallas writes us, "Do you think that his lack of religion played a role in either how he was treated in the military while alive or in the cover up connected with his death?" Maybe back up a step. What were Pat Tillman's views of religion?

  • 11:42:24

    TILLMANYou know, Pat was a very spiritual person. I think that religion is such a personal thing for people, you know. And it's not really something that I would speak of on his behalf.

  • 11:42:36

    PAGEBut we have these -- several emailers saying that he was an atheist. Is that true or is that a misunderstanding on their part?

  • 11:42:44

    TILLMANYou know, I think that some people could maybe have interpreted it that way. But really, you know, I'm not here to speak for him. Like I said, I felt like he was a very spiritual person. He was very in tough with sort of the human spirit and that sort of thing. And, you know, it's been interesting to me the things that people have taken from his life and chosen to, sort of, run with.

  • 11:43:08

    PAGEIt's been interesting, but has it been painful, annoying, enraging? How else would you describe it?

  • 11:43:14

    TILLMANYou know, it's definitely frustrating. And, you know, and really trying to bring, sort of, the human side of Pat back to people is part of what this book is about. You know, in many ways he was very human. He was, you know, an ordinary person who made some extraordinary decisions and, you know, the way that that has been portrayed has sometimes been, I think, a little bit inaccurate.

  • 11:43:41

    PAGEYeah, let's go back to the phones. We'll talk to Ray. He's calling us from Grand Rapids, MI. Ray, we appreciate you holding on.

  • 11:43:48

    RAYThank you very much. I just wanted to know -- want you to know that there's a lot more empathy for a person who is killed by a friendly fire. I'm very -- this program induced me to think about how many I had seen of friendly fire deaths in my combat experience in World War II. And immediately I was able to count the number and it's 44. And the reason I think I knew that number -- and I've never thought about it since World War II -- was that we have a greater empathy for those who died from friendly fire. And I think that's a more bitter pill.

  • 11:44:35

    RAYWhen you -- when all the combat people that are dying around you and so on is more or less completely expected. That's what you signed up for and you knew you were going to get that exposure. But the empathy that I have yet to this day for those who died from friendly fire affects me more adversely. And I know it must be the same for you. I don't know why the word cover up comes into this. I don't think they military necessarily knows that these people were -- died from friendly -- I wouldn't know how they would discern that. Don't forget just human beings go out there and pick these people up and take them and bury them. I don't know how they would discern that.

  • 11:45:22

    PAGEAnd Ray before you get off the phone, where did you serve in World War II?

  • 11:45:26

    RAYOh, the South Pacific such places as -- for example, Iwo Jima and Marine Corps.

  • 11:45:35

    PAGEAll right, well, Ray...

  • 11:45:36

    RAYInfantry -- yeah, go ahead.

  • 11:45:38

    PAGERay, I just want to thank you for your service to the nation. Marie, what do you think -- Ray made two points. One is whether there's actually more empathy in cases of deaths from friendly fire.

  • 11:45:51

    TILLMANYou know, I think that, unfortunately, friendly fire is a part of war. And it's something that is fairly stigmatized, I think, within the military. I don't know if there's more or less empathy, but I do think that it is something that people tend to talk about less.

  • 11:46:10

    PAGEYou know, and Ray also said that he doesn't understand why we're talking about a cover up. Is it clear that the army tried to misrepresent the circumstances of Pat's death?

  • 11:46:21

    TILLMANYeah, I mean, I think that, you know, if you had followed any of the investigations and all that it is clear that there was certainly an attempt to hide information.

  • 11:46:32

    PAGEYes. Let's talk to Jeff calling us from Reston, Va. Jeff, you're on the air.

  • 11:46:38

    JEFFOh, thank you. I just wanted to call and make a quick comment. To commend Marie on her book and her frame of mind in the -- you know, due to the circumstances. I'm a prior U.S. army veteran myself and a veteran of a foreign war and I was surround by the fog of war and I just wish there were more people like Marie in the world that could have such clarity and forgiveness, from what I can tell and from what I read.

  • 11:47:10

    JEFFIs that, you know, in our society for some reason, we seem to celebrate war. And I, you know, certainly my heart goes out to all veterans no matter what their situation. And that we celebrate it so much it seems like we do kind of get lost in the human aspect of it all. But I do appreciate your efforts, Marie, and thank you.

  • 11:47:36

    PAGEJeff, before you...

  • 11:47:37

    TILLMANThank you.

  • 11:47:37

    PAGEJeff, are you still on the air?

  • 11:47:38


  • 11:47:39

    PAGESo where -- with what group did you serve in the military?

  • 11:47:43

    JEFFI was in the U.S. Army in the first Persian Gulf War back in 1990.

  • 11:47:48

    PAGEAll right, Jeff, thank you, again, for your service. Marie, this idea of forgiveness, of being able to move on how did you manage that because, of course, some people never in circumstances like this or other tragedies are never able to do that. How were you able to do it?

  • 11:48:07

    TILLMANYou know, it was something that I worked on a lot. And, you know, really when I go back to Pat and I go back to the letter that he left for me and I think about, you know, what it was that he wished for me in my life I just knew that to hold onto the anger and become bitter and to really focus on all of those things I wouldn't be able to move forward in my life and honor his last wish. And really honor him in the way that he lived his life. And that's what I try to do every day.

  • 11:48:37

    PAGEWhere is the letter now?

  • 11:48:39

    TILLMANIt's at my house. I keep it sort of tucked away with some other letters that we had written back and forth.

  • 11:48:47

    PAGEAnd do you look at it often or not?

  • 11:48:49

    TILLMANYou know, I don't look at it that often anymore. Certainly, I've, you know, memorized it over the years.

  • 11:48:57

    PAGEYou've now remarried.

  • 11:48:59


  • 11:49:00

    PAGEYou have a new baby, congratulations on that.

  • 11:49:02

    TILLMANThank you.

  • 11:49:03

    PAGEWas it hard to get to the point where you felt, sort of, free to date again, to consider a new romance?

  • 11:49:11

    TILLMANOh, definitely. I mean it's something that a lot of widows deal with. I was 27 when Pat was killed. And, you know, still quite young. But it took me a long time to be able to be open to something like that in my life. And I think that, you know, to find the right person because really for me that was the key to find this amazing man that I found and married and have him in my life has been, you know, really something that I'm grateful for.

  • 11:49:43

    PAGELinda has sent us an email. She writes, "Please ask Marie about her experience living through widowhood and learning to live on." What advice would you have for widows, especially widows like yourself who were so young?

  • 11:49:58

    TILLMANYeah, you know, I think that that is one of the most difficult things is that I remember early on I wished that somebody could give me, you know, a roadmap or advice or guidance on how to get through. And it's such a personal thing and something that you have to just, sort of, move through. You can't get around it. You can't go over it. And you have to really work through your grief and find your way to the other side. And it's difficult. I do not, you know, for people that I talk to that are just in the very early stages of dealing with grief, it is such a difficult journey.

  • 11:50:34

    PAGEAnd you write about some of the things people said to you that seemed so wrong, so unkind. Things like, well, you're young. You'll find somebody else or thank goodness you didn't have children. I mean, what should people say on the other side to someone who is struggling with grief?

  • 11:50:52

    TILLMANYou know, in many ways for me, the people that I was able to connect with the most were the ones who said, you know, I don't know what to say to you, but I'm here and I care about you. And whatever it is that you need, if you want me to, you know, leave you alone or you want me to sit here with you. Those were the people that were most helpful to me in my life, were the ones who just sort of admitted that, you know, I don't know what to do here, but I'm here for you.

  • 11:51:18

    PAGELet's talk to Joshua. He's calling us from Atlanta. Hi, Joshua.

  • 11:51:22

    JOSHUAHello, it's a pleasure to be on the air. Thank you so much for having this guest.

  • 11:51:25

    PAGEYou bet, go ahead.

  • 11:51:26

    JOSHUAI have a comment to you, Ms. Page, and then I have a question for our guest. I think you're doing a disservice by constantly saying the military's misrepresentation of his death. It was a lie. And it's words like that that cover up what's going on. Terms like friendly fire that they come up with to hide the truth. And I also want to say that in the same that it's hard for the human mind to put forth the concept of what occurred during World War II in Germany until somebody found a book by a little named Ann Frank and put a face on it.

  • 11:52:08

    JOSHUAI think that Mr. Tillman represents the scary side of war and what happens when the people in charge try to manipulate something for their own purposes and their own gain that have nothing to do with truth, which is supposedly one of the standards that we set for ourselves as Americans. And I would like to know from Ms. Tillman what she thinks about the documentary that was made about her husband and if it's something that could educate people such as the caller that called and doesn't understand why the term cover up is being used when if this film is to be trusted it provides facts for people to understand. Thank you so much.

  • 11:52:57

    PAGEAll right, Joshua, thanks for your call. Marie, what do you think?

  • 11:52:59

    TILLMANCertainly I think thought the documentary was very well done. And you know it was something that I was supportive of.

  • 11:53:07

    PAGEAnd I think we have a caller's interested in also the book that was written. Vanessa, hi. Vanessa's calling us from Glen Bernie, here near D.C. Vanessa, hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:53:21

    VANESSAGood morning. Good morning, Mrs. Tillman. I am actually a service member. I've been in the army for about ten years now and several years ago, I picked up the Jon Krakauer book "Where Men Win Glory." And I have to say it was both an inspiration and one of the times in my life where I've been actually very ashamed of being in the military. And this is the only time, actually, I have to say. So I want to both thank you for the inspiration that both you and Mr. Tillman provided.

  • 11:53:55

    VANESSATen years later, I'm actually a fundraiser for the Tillman Association -- for the foundation because it is such an inspiration. But could you tell me, were you working with Mr. Krakauer on the book? And, if so, or if not how close is it to actuality?

  • 11:54:16

    PAGEAll right, Vanessa, thanks so much for your call.

  • 11:54:20

    TILLMANYeah, thank you very much for the call and for your service and support of the foundation. Yes, I did work with Jon Krakauer on the book and it was something that he had approached us about writing and, you know, was only interested in doing so if it was something that we could participate in. So, you know, certainly he had access to some of Pat's journals and letters and all of that that was in the book.

  • 11:54:46

    PAGEAnd tell us how you went about writing your own book.

  • 11:54:51

    TILLMANThe writing process was something that, you know, I did over many years. When Pat first passed away, I journal-ed really as a way of dealing with my feelings and sorting through my grief. And I went back to a lot of those journals when I was writing the book. So there are parts of it that were taken from some of my early journaling. But it was an interesting process. It was difficult in many times and something that I would have to take a step back from to, sort of, re-live all of that. But in the end it was really a great experience for me.

  • 11:55:28

    PAGEWhat did it do for you to write this book?

  • 11:55:31

    TILLMANYou know, I think it, in some ways, made me feel like I was able to use this experience to be able to help others and, you know, that's really what my hope is for the book. That, you know, I was able to come to a place where I could move forward and move forward in a positive way and to be able to, you know, share my story with people that are having a difficult time no matter what the loss is that they're living with was really the reason why I wrote it.

  • 11:56:02

    PAGEYou know, it's interesting, Marie, there's a photograph on the cover of the book, and, of course, it's hard to show people photographs when you're on the radio. But it's a picture from your wedding and what's interesting about it is that it's not a head on shot. It's one where Pat's head is down. You see the top of his head. It's low on the page. Why did you choose this particular photo?

  • 11:56:27

    TILLMANYou know what, it was a photo that I had always liked. And it was something that I felt was a little bit more subtle. That was a picture of us, but I think in some ways, sort of, captured our relationship as well.

  • 11:56:45

    PAGEYou can see this photo is you go on our website at along with some other photos of Marie and Pat Tillman. I want to thank Marie Tillman for being with this hour. Marie, thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • 11:56:57

    TILLMANThank you.

  • 11:56:59

    PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.

  • 11:57:03

    PAGE"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn. And the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

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