6 years later, we haven't forgotten

Published: Thursday, March 19 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

ROY — This isn't the kind of anniversary you celebrate.

But you mark it because it's important.

Six years ago today, the United States launched an invasion into Iraq — a place few of us will ever see, but a place that seems to touch everyone.

At least 4,259 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war, according to the Associated Press. Since 2003, 48 men and one woman with Utah ties have been killed in conflicts in the Middle East.

In operations leading up to the start of the war, former Utahn John Darren "J.D." Smith, 32, a pilot, was killed when his Blackhawk helicopter crashed during a training mission in Kuwait.

Cemeteries across the state, such as the Roy City Stoker Memorial Cemetery, are dotted with graves of those whom we won't see again.

Among those is Marine Staff Sgt. James Wilford Cawley, who was killed outside the small town of Al Fajid, Iraq, after being hit by a Humvee.

The Iraq war was officially 10 days old when it claimed Cawley's life.

But to Cawley's sister, Julie Cawley Hanson, he lives on in his children.

"It's eerie to see his son," Hanson says. "He looks like him — the way he moves his hands, the way he talks, his mannerisms. It's like watching my brother again."

And Cecil Cawley, now 14, wants to be a police officer and a Marine, just like his dad.

Hanson says she could write a book about her brother, with whom she felt a tight bond. And over the course of an hour Wednesday, she told the Deseret News that her brother grew from an introverted, noncommunicative child into an intelligent, charming, social butterfly — and a man's man.

Sgt. Cawley worked as a SWAT detective for Salt Lake police and was called up to active duty with the Marines after Sept. 11, 2001. After training for a year at Camp Pendleton, he deployed to Iraq with a platoon.

The night he left, Hanson said, she felt a terrible sense of foreboding that was confirmed when she read her e-mail the next day. It was a tender letter from Cawley asking her to take care of his wife, Miyuki, to help her with military benefits and whom to notify at the police department if he was killed.

It also included his desire where to be buried.

"I don't plan on getting killed," the note said. "I hope this won't be too much trouble for you."

"By the end, he knew," Hanson said. "I knew when he said goodbye that would be the last time I would see him. He knew the same thing."

Then there were the other signs: touching memories he wrote down for his two children and donating all of his clothes to Deseret Industries.

"I don't know who takes all of their clothing and gives it away," Hanson said.

But after mulling her brother's death, she has come up with a question: "Would you go to work today if you know you're not going to be coming home?"

James Cawley would. He did, she said, because of his sense of duty. The great debater in him — the debater who could make you so mad because he was so good at it — didn't debate whether a war needed to happen or not.

"He was convinced something needed to be done," Hanson said.

If the U.S. gets out of Iraq in August 2010 — a promise made two weeks ago by President Barack Obama — the debates will linger about whether war was the right thing.

Some will rail against the premise of going to Iraq in the first place. Others will criticize how the war was handled. And some will criticize withdrawing.

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