From Rosa Sutton to Mary Tillman

For the American press and its readers, Rosa Sutton came to represent every mother who had lost a son in the military and sought the facts about his fate. This dilemma resonates as strongly today as it did in the decade before World War I. — [A Soul on Trial pg. 303]

It is ironic that citizens from patriotic military families are at times forced to confront an institution that defends democratic values—and yet  the privileges and guarantees of our Constitution are not always applicable to service members themselves. Rosa Sutton and Pat Tillman’s mother, Mary, each made her case in the same way by using the media and appealing to Congress. The Sutton case is quintessential American story, possibly the first of its kind.  Rosa Sutton became an iconic figure to her fellow American citizens and began to relish that role.  Today, there are several mothers fighting to get the truth from the military—in many cases from the army. The language these mothers are using and the hurdles they face exactly parallel Rosa Sutton’s challenges a hundred years ago. None of these mothers wanted to go to the media or to appeal to Congress. But these are the two primary sources of support they have.

Like Rosa Sutton,  Mary Tillman  and her family have tried to learn the truth about what happened to Pat in a case in which lapses of memory —  convenient or genuine –help shield  those who may have been responsible for his death in 2004.  The search for the truth about Tillman’s death may have only just begun; it may only be fully understood when misleading testimony can be weighed in the context of how military justice functions in the early 21st century, what private battles individual officers  and government personnel faced, what allegiances they had, and what personal and professional factors may have affected their recollections.