Marine killed in Afghanistan served country in many ways

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 31, 2009 

ARLINGTON, Va. — Marine Sgt. Bill Cahir was a public servant his whole life.

He served as a congressional staffer, as a journalist, as a political candidate and, finally, as a Marine reservist in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cahir was 34 when he volunteered for the military in 2003. He was five years beyond the usual recruiting limit, carrying nearly 20 extra pounds and struggling at a dozen pull-ups below the fitness requirement.

Cahir (pronounced "care") kept asking to join and, as he recalled in an article he wrote five years ago about his training, the Marines let him in.

"There it was," Cahir wrote. "My last, best chance to serve."

Monday afternoon, hundreds of his loved ones honored that devotion.

Cahir, 40, died of a single enemy gunshot wound on Aug. 13 in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. He was buried Monday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

As cicadas chirped in the sun and a breeze rustled the oak leaves, a Marine Corps band marched the roads that wind among the rows of white marble grave markers at Arlington, the snare drum keeping a solemn beat in the procession.

The band was followed by a horse-drawn caisson, which was followed by an estimated 500 mourners.

Cahir's wife, Rene Browne, walked slowly to the gravesite, her left hand on her stomach. Browne is pregnant with the couple's twin girls. They're due in December.

His parents, John and Mary Anne Cahir, followed. Then came other family members, friends and dozens of his fellow Marines in their dress uniforms of white and deep blue.

The burial followed a Roman Catholic funeral Mass. At the gravesite, the Rev. Kieran Mandato gave a blessing, shook holy water over the casket and told the mourners that in death, Cahir would have eternal life.

He was the 101st casualty of Operation Enduring Freedom to be buried at Arlington.

He graduated with honors from Penn State University and left State College in 1990 for Washington. There, he worked for Sens. Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. He eventually turned to journalism, serving as the Washington correspondent for the Express-Times of Lehigh Valley with Newhouse News Service.

Cahir said he'd felt the pull toward military service for much of his life. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he wanted to participate in the war on terrorism.

Cahir served two tours of duty in Iraq, blending his military work with his journalism.

A year ago, Cahir bought a home in Pennsylvania and settled down to run for Congress, filing for the 5th Congressional District seat left open by the retirement of Rep. John Peterson.

Cahir was one of three Democrats in the race, and he faced criticism for living away from State College for so long. However, Cahir was quick to emphasize his roots, talking about the hospital where he was born, recalling his youth and greeting a former English teacher from the dais at a political forum.

On the stump, Cahir advocated a responsible exit from the war in Iraq and pushed for universal health coverage.

In the end, Cahir finished a close second in the Democratic primary to Mark McCracken, who lost the November election to Republican Glenn Thompson. Cahir returned to Washington to work as a consultant.

He deployed to Afghanistan this spring as part of the 4th Civil Affairs Group, Marine Corps Reserves.

There, in a region dotted with poppy fields and under the influence of the Taliban, he gave candy to children and encouraged local residents to work with the military. An Associated Press article quoted Cahir less than a month before his death. In it, Cahir said he hoped to make progress with local villagers.

In a 2004 article about his training, Cahir wrote with humility about struggling over an 8-foot wall and carrying the wrong rifle to the firing range at Parris Island, S.C. He talked of being cursed by young drill instructors who intentionally mispronounced his name as "Ca-heer" to get under his skin.

In Iraq, he served in Ramadi and Fallujah and was the lead turret gunner in a Humvee for a civil affairs team working with Iraqis to engage tribal sheiks. He won an award as one of his unit's best non-commissioned officers.

At Arlington Monday, after the flags were folded and presented, after the volley of rifle shots and the playing of taps, six Marines guarding Cahir's casket stepped away in formation. The rifle squad faded into the trees.

Standing before Cahir's wife and parents, a single Marine gave a final, slow hand salute.

ON THE WEB

Marine Sgt. Bill Cahir's first-person account of his training as a Marine

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