WASHINGTON — Bill Cahir had a gift for using words as weapons of mass persuasion.
On Sunday, his friends and family gathered at Bolling Air Force Base to remember the former journalist and Marine as "our very best and most complete civil affairs professional," as Col. Gerard Fischer, his commanding officer, put it.
Cahir, 40, who joined the Marines at age 34, was killed in Afghanistan last month. On Sunday, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
He had, said team leader Capt. Jason Brezler, "the poise of a seasoned diplomat."
About 35 family members and friends were joined by 80 Marines, mostly from Cahir's 4th Civil Affairs Group, stationed at the adjacent Naval Annex in Anacostia, who sat in the pews dressed in the same camouflage they wore in the field.
They sat in the stark, spacious chapel, looking at a dais where the American flag stood on the left and a Marine Corps flag on the right, with a gold cross in the middle. Friends and colleagues took short turns remembering Cahir.
He felt a calling, said the Rev. Ann Herlin, a family pastor. "You could see this call playing itself out from politics to journalism to the Marines."
Cahir, a Bellefonte, Pa., native, was a Penn State graduate. He had worked for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and former Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., who was present Sunday.
Cahir later became a reporter, writing about Washington for Newhouse newspapers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
But the terrorist attacks of eight years ago inspired him to volunteer, in 2003, for the military. He served two tours in Iraq, in Ramadi and Fallujah, and won an award as one of his unit's best non-commissioned officers.
During his second tour, Cahir was instrumental in helping with the "Anbar Awakening" and the reconciliation of Sunni tribal leaders. An adviser to the Fallujah city council, he helped coordinate civil-military projects, and was promoted to sergeant in April 2007.
Once back home in Pennsylvania, he ran for the Democratic congressional nomination in the 5th District last year, finishing second in the primary. A few months ago he was deployed to Afghanistan as part of the 4th Civil Affairs Group, Marine Corps Reserves.
He worked on building relationships between the military and local residents, but on Aug. 13, a single enemy gunshot wound killed him. On Aug. 24, his wife, who is pregnant with their twin daughters, got a letter from Kennedy the day before he died.
"Bill was a true Profile in Courage," the letter read, "and his selfless dedication to our country will never be forgotten."
Friends and family picked up on that theme on Sunday. Fischer chuckled about how during the Afghanistan elections this summer, Cahir was a big help because "Bill knew a little something about elections."
Sgt. Maj. O'Neal Johnson praised Cahir as a Marine who "knew there would be danger, but he wanted to make a difference," and Sgt. Jake Gigloitti called Cahir "a professional in every sense."
After the eulogies, Fischer presented Cahir's widow, Rene Browne, with Cahir's Purple Heart "for wounds received in action."
The names of some Marines present were called, and they answered "present, Sergeant Major." Cahir's name was read last, and there was silence.
A 21-gun salute followed, then Taps, then the presentation of four flags, one each to sisters Kathryn and Ellen, one to Cahir's father, John, and the other to his widow.
It was a time to remember, said Herlin, that those in war are "not only warriors, but also workers for peace."