Jesse, h.s. band
The new documentary on Fort Lewis Ranger Pat Tillman reiterates an oft-told story about his friendly fire death and the Bush administration


Pat Tillman's Story is Jesse Buryj's Story, and Ken Ballard's and Pat McCaffrey's Story and...

Jesse, h.s. band
The new documentary on Fort Lewis Ranger Pat Tillman reiterates an oft-told story about his friendly fire death and the Bush administration cover-up. Coupled with the film, past media coverage, and Jon Krakauer's 2009 book, the details of Tillman's life (ex-professional athlete who turned down a job offer from the Seattle Seahawks to remain in the Army) and death (shot, presumably by accident, in Afghanistan by his own troops) have been exhaustively reported. Yet there's a side benefit to the new media outpouring, one that good-guy Tillman, 27, likely would appreciate: the telling of the friendly fire deaths of other soldiers who lacked his star appeal.

For example, CNN's Larry King, as part of the film's promotion, recently hosted not only Tillman's parents but several mothers of lesser-known friendly-kill soldiers: Nadia McCaffrey, mother of Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, 34, and Karen Meredith, mother of Lt. Ken Ballard, 26. Both were killed in Iraq in 2004. The mothers emphasized the fact that such deaths are more frequent and similarly covered up by the military. McCaffrey said it took her two years to learn the truth that her son was killed by an Iraqi soldier he was training.

They told us that Patrick was shot multiple times by insurgents in an ambush and was killed on the spot. Immediately, like I said, people told me that it wasn't right; it wasn't the way it happened at all. Actually, the first to publish the truth was the Los Angeles Times in a long article called "Who Is Dying In Our War?" And by the soldiers, most of the report was written by soldiers.

Meredith was told her son died from small arms fire and had saved the lives of 60 people. The truth?

Fifteen months later, the military came to my house and told me that Ken was killed by the accidental discharge of the M-240 machine gun on his tank, that a tree branch engaged it while he was moving, adjusting the vehicle to turn around to finish the night -- finish the mission.

The deaths of both McCaffrey and Ballard were included in a 2007 Seattle Weekly cover story about friendly fire incidents, focusing on the death of Fort Lewis military policeman Jesse Buryj, 21, killed in Iraq 13 days after the death of Tillman in Afghanistan.

His mother Peggy was told Buryj was accidentally shot by an ally, a soldier from the Polish forces. Yet she was able to herself learn that a U.S. solider confessed: the officer, she says, even came to her home and admitted the shooting. The Army stuck to its original version even after the Polish embassy in D.C. told SW the Poles did their own investigation and "the conclusion was that the Polish troops were not responsible for Buryj's death."

Peggy Buryj could never confirm what truly happened, in part because Army investigators had destroyed some of the shooting evidence. "They threw away the bullet!" she said. With that, "I lost the last bit of confidence I had in the Army."

She harbored no grudge against the Tillmans for grabbing the spotlight - Mary Tillman in fact offered her assistance. But Peggy couldn't help feel a bit hurt when she went past the Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio, where she lives, and where her son was born, raised and is now buried.

The graveyard was understandably deserted where Jesse Buryj lie, while the crowds poured into the Hall where Pat Tillman's life was on display. Said Peggy of her son:

"He was funny; that's the one thing I miss most. He was the funniest person I ever met. We were always on the same wavelength." She visits him weekly, sometimes driving past the football fans downtown.

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