6 years later, we haven't forgotten

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 7 2015 2:10 p.m. MDT

James Cawley (Tom Smart, Deseret News) James Cawley (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

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.

But a recent ABC News poll found that about 84 percent of Iraqis said they now feel safe in their country — nearly double the number who felt that way in 2007. Fifty-nine percent said they feel "very" safe, and 65 percent added that things are going well in their own lives.

Most in Iraq also feel it's time for U.S. troops to leave, with 75 percent saying they trust Iraqi security forces to protect the country.

Of course, "protect" means kill or be killed.

As time goes on, people around the world will continue to mourn their dead while trying to understand what service to country means.

These are people who know the ultimate sacrifice.

USA Today reported that U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have flattened at the lowest level since the war began, and the Navy has not lost a member to combat in more than a year.

Three Marines have been killed in combat since August, and none since December, records show. The Air Force hasn't had a combat death since April, and the Navy since February 2008.

For six years, soldiers, airmen and Marines have done a job they're required to do by belonging to the U.S. armed forces.

About 300 personnel from Hill Air Force Base's two fighter wings deployed to Iraq in late January for what is expected to be a four-month tour.

Folks, no doubt, hope they all come back.

The loss of one is devastating, but James Cawley's death seems to have touched so many people who knew him, Hanson said. And there's still hope.

Two days after the Cawley family learned he had been killed, Miyuki received a card her husband had sent from Kuwait. At the end of a personal note, some of which was written in Japanese kanji, he had written six more kanji characters. They now mark Cawley's gravestone in Roy.

Below his picture, his birth and death dates, the names of his wife and children, it says, if you can read Japanese: "I will see you again."

E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company