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Why Did Jim Have to Die?
Maybe it was the five days of fierce fighting in the southern Iraqi city of An Nasiriyah or a premonition, but Marine Staff Sgt. James Cawley desperately wanted to get a message to his wife. Cawley asked a favor of a Japanese reporter embedded with F Company, 2nd Battalion, made up of 170 Marine Reservists from Utah and Nevada. The two had become friends, partially because of their shared Japanese language.
Would Tsuyoshi Nojima please e-mail a personal message, written in Japanese to Cawley's wife, Miyuki? Cawley, who had served a Mormon Church mission to Fukuoka, Japan, met and married Miyuki when he later had been stationed as a Marine in Okinawa. They had two children, Cecil, 8, and Keiko, 6.
"We were traveling so much and there were so many battles that I didn't get the message out right away," said Nojima, a reporter with Asahi Shimbun. "I feel terrible that it took me so long. It was a tragedy."
Still, Cawley seemed satisfied when Nojima told him that he had been able to finally send the e-mail via his satellite telephone. Cawley told his wife that she was not to worry, and he was hoping to see her soon. She e-mailed a message back on March 29, the same day Cawley was killed.
"He never got her reply," said Nojima. "I stood there and read it to him, over his body."
"Dear Jim, I was relieved to hear you are okay," she had written in the e-mail. "The children and your father are well, so please don't worry. I get news about the war from the TV and newspapers, but I have no idea where you are . . . I hope you will be careful and come home safely as soon as you can."
Miyuki Cawley told another Japanese reporter working for the Mainichi newspaper that two days after the Marines had knocked on her door in Layton to notify her of her husband's death, she received a letter from her husband, written on the cardboard cover of an MRE ration. She wept when she read that he had not received her letters.
Soon, another Marine, 1st Sgt. Nick Lopez, asked Nojima to send an e-mail to his wife. Long before the war with Iraq, Lopez, 37, a Salt Lake City firefighter, had been friends with Cawley, 41, a Salt Lake City police detective.
"No mail. Very little food, one MRE a day, very tired," Lopez wrote. "Staff Sgt. Cawley was killed two days ago . . . I am very sad. I love you very much. I miss you very much. Kiss and hug our children for me. God bless. Forever in love with you, Nick."
Tresa Lopez has received no other messages from her husband. Nojima's editors had directed him to leave because of the dangers.
Speaking from his hotel room in Kuwait City, Nojima said he was present in the dark, early morning hours when Cawley was killed.
"We took fire from a sniper. A Humvee started driving to the direction of the shooting and a second Humvee followed onto a paved road. The Humvee didn't do this. The driver went on the ground where everyone was sleeping."
Cawley and Capt. Harry Porter were lying in the Humvee's path. Porter awoke, tried to scramble out of the way and received severe facial injuries. An exhausted Cawley, who was in a sleeping bag, "didn't hear the sound.
"Everyone was in the dark, there was no light," said Nojima. "People rushed over, they tried to find Jim, they called his name. They found him in his sleeping bag and talked to him. There was no answer. They pushed the sleeping bag, opened it and found he was dead. The driver of the Humvee, who had been sleeping when the ground fire began, forgot to wear his night goggles."
Heavy fighting continued to rage around An Nasiriyah, a city of 500,000. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with 2,500 troops, had augmented a 5,000-member Marine task force in the area. Nearly 10,000 members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division joined U.S. positions there.
Up to nine Marines died and a dozen U.S. soldiers were taken prisoner in surprise engagements with Iraqi troops, who sometimes attacked after pretending to surrender.
In a firefight before his death, Cawley and nine other Marines had been pinned under fire before he found an escape route.
"He was a father figure to the young Marines," Nojima said. "The Marines in F Company said little to each other after Jim was killed. Some were upset that the driver of the Humvee wasn't punished. Others said he felt so bad, it was punishment enough. I do not know his name, I only know he was from another Marine company."
Nojima described the first days of the fighting for the Utah and Nevada Marines in an Asahi Shimbun dispatch published March 27, two days before Cawley's death:
"I was sleeping in a foxhole dug in the sand when the platoon leader's voice woke me: 'We will cross into a danger zone now.'
"He was true to his word. Later, our vehicles were caught in a fierce firefight in the main street of the strategic southern Iraq city of An Nasiriyah.
" 'Someone's in that building. Make the barrage heavier!'
"The commander's voice was immediately drowned out by a mass of firepower, including automatic rifle fire from the truck I was in. I heard gunfire from a building some distance away . . . A bullet cracked through the air. I ducked my head instinctively.
"Sinking low in the back of the truck, smelling cordite from spent cartridges, I prayed I wouldn't be hit. The gunbattle lasted about 20 minutes. It ended when U.S. attack helicopters arrived and strafed the enemy with machine-gun fire . . .
"The city's natural gas complex was on fire. A truck sat idle on the street, its windows blasted by gunfire. The Iraqi driver lay sprawled across the windshield. Charred remains and hideously disfigured bodies lay scattered on the streets . . . Many houses were also ablaze. U.S. tanks and armored vehicles exchanged fire with Iraqi troops in narrow lanes."
In Nojima's latest dispatch, published this week, the headline reads: "Jim Is Dead."
"Why did Jim have to die, even though the end of the war was near?" Cawley's wife was quoted as saying. "When I think of how Jim was about to reach Baghdad and how the allies were about to liberate the citizens and win the war, and how everyone was going to come back safely, I can't stand it . . .
"Jim is the oldest of the American soldiers to die in Iraq so far. Maybe he gave too much of himself. I want to tell him, 'Thanks for your hard work. Now you can rest.' "
The Cawleys had planned to eventually move back to her homeland of Okinawa and open a cafe together. On Thursday, he will be buried near his Utah hometown of Roy. He was 41 when he died.