Joel E. Cahill – Captain, United States Army

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
No. 1167-05

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Captain Joel E. Cahill, 34, of Norwood, Massachusetts, died in Ad Dawr, Iraq, on November 6, 2005, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV.  Cahill was assigned to the Army's 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Georgia.

A local soldier believed strongly in the war that took his life, his family said Tuesday.

Army Captain Joel Cahill, 34, was serving his third tour in Iraq when he was killed by a roadside bomb Monday, according to his sister Erin Christensen, of Gretna. Cahill was a Papillion-La Vista High School graduate, and was one of five siblings in his family. Cahill's brother is Omaha Police Department Detective Larry Cahill.


Cahill's family said he helped with the rescue of Jessica Lynch, who was taken hostage early in the war in Iraq, and recently Cahill helped with the elections in Iraq. He spent 15 years in the military.

Joel Cahill left behind his wife, Mary, and their two daughters, Faith, 4 and Brenna, 3. They are in Georgia.

Cahill's sister said it was his family for which her brother was fighting.

“He strongly believed this is what he needed to do to keep his girls safe in the future. He strongly believed he was doing the right thing,” Christensen said.

“He laid his life down for this country, and for us, as well as all the soldiers who have perished,” said sibling Jason Cahill.

The soldier was described as a hero by his family, and as intelligent, funny and athletic. Family members said they'll miss him greatly.

“He was a wonderful brother, father, husband, son and soldier. We'll miss everything about him,” said Larry Cahill.

Services are planned at Arlington National Cemetery next week.

8 November 2005:

Eyes glistening, four siblings of U.S. Army Captain Joel Cahill reminisced Tuesday morning about the man who had devoted his life to serving his country.

Cahill, 33, and a 1990 graduate of Papillion-La Vista High School, was killed Sunday morning by a roadside bomb five miles from his base camp in Iraq. From what the family can discern, Cahill was riding in a Humvee returning from a raid in a neighboring city when it rode over an improvised electronic device and detonated on his side of the car. He was the only fatality of the five men in the vehicle.

The Army Ranger was less than three months from returning home to Georgia to rejoin his wife, Mary, and two little girls Faith, 4, and Brenna, 3.

He is survived by parents Larry and Barbara Cahill, sister Erin Christensen of Gretna, brothers Jason of Columbia, Mo., and Randy of Papillion and Larry of Omaha.

Cahill's current tour of duty in Iraq wasn't his first and over time, said his brother-in-law, Frank, and the family started to think Joel was invincible against the enemy.

Cahill would regularly assure his parents, and the family as a whole, that he was relatively safe.

“He often expressed to my mom, to keep her calm while he was gone, ‘Don't worry about me, there's lots that could happen, but the only thing that could kill me is an IED,'” Erin said. “He said, ‘Don't worry about that, because that's by chance and you can't keep worrying about a chance,' and that's ultimately what killed him.”

For the approximately 15 years he's been a member of the U.S. Army, either as an enlisted soldier or a commissioned officer, Cahill spent about eight years as a member of the special forces Army Rangers unit. Since graduating from high school, Cahill's life has been the Army, his siblings said.

He shipped off to basic training in 1990, one day after his brother Larry got married and with the exception of a short stint at Creighton University, Cahill had been full-time active duty ever since.

One of his squads was responsible for setting up support services for the extrication of Pvt. Jessica Lynch in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Most recently Cahill was given command of an entire company and its assignment was to ensure the safety of Iraq's democratic elections.

Joel's siblings gathered at their sister's home Tuesday to share photos and memories of their brother.

They remembered their brother as extremely intelligent and athletic.

“Anything he did, he did it at 115 percent and he was great at it,” Jason said, who played football at PLV High when he was a sophomore and Joel was a senior. “He loved being around family and kids. He could walk in a room and his face would light up when he was around our kids,” Jason said. “He had a very dry sense of humor. He just loved being around family and his wife and his girls. I don't know anybody who loved this country more than he did.”

Joel was a man dedicated to his wife and children, to his family and to his country, Erin said.

“I asked him several times, ‘Do we really need to be there?' and if this is something we should be doing,” she said. He strongly believed that this was what he needed to do to keep his girls safe in the future. He strongly believed he was doing the right thing and that there was a cause.”

The effect of Cahill's death has been different for everyone, but the family will be leaning on each other for support, Larry said.

“Our family is a very close family and we are there to support one another and we'll get through it,” he said. “It's extremely difficult right now, but we'll get through it.”

Yesterday Larry's oldest son, Carter, dug out a box of medals and patches his uncle had won and was grieving that way.

“Carter idolizes my brother and forever wanted to follow in his footsteps since he was very little,” Larry said. “Joel wrote him a letter explaining what each of the patches meant – they had a pretty close relationship – and my son set all these medals out on the table and read the letter over and over again yesterday.”

His brothers and sisters want Joel to be remembered as a hero.

“I would hope people would consider him the hero he is,” Larry said. “He laid his life down for this country and for us. I think I speak for all my siblings when I say that we believe what he was doing was important, and that his life isn't in vain.

“I believe it's important for us to tell as many people as possible about him. We support my brother and all the soldiers and what they are doing.

“I think it's important for us to get that message out to people so that nobody will forget that these people have made the ultimate sacrifice for our rights.”

As they grieve, the Cahill siblings are savoring every memory and aspect of their brother's life.

“There's not one thing about my brother that we won't miss,” Larry said. “He was a wonderful brother, a wonderful father, husband, son and a soldier. We'll miss everything about him.”

The Joel Cahill Memorial Fund has been established at all Pinnacle Bank locations, and his siblings ask the public to remember their brother by giving to that fund.

Funeral services will be held November 18, 2005, at Arlington National Cemetery. At some point after that, the family will organize a memorial service in the Omaha area.

10 November 2005:

A 34-year-old company commander, who had earned his college degree and an ROTC commission after several years as an enlisted man, became the 29th Fort Benning soldier killed this year in Iraq, the victim of a roadside bomb on Sunday.

Captain Joel Cahill, 34, commander of B Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, died near Dawr, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee. He is the ninth member of the 1-15 — the fifth during the last three weeks — to die of wounds suffered in bombings. He is also the highest ranked soldier from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team to die in action in 2005.

Bravo Company, which Cahill took command of in August, is rich in Army lore, being the company of World War II's most decorated soldier, Audie Murphy.

“It's hard to believe,” his brother, Randy Cahill, told the Lincoln Journal Star as family members gathered at his La- Vista, Neb., home to mourn Joel. “We'll be laughing about things that have happened one minute and crying the next.”

Maj. Steve Warren, 3rd Brigade public affairs officer, said after learning of Cahill's death, “We can't seem to climb out from under this black cloud.”

After suffering 11 deaths in October and three more during the first six days of November, the brigade has lost almost as many soldiers the past six weeks as during its first nine months in Iraq.

Earlier this week, fellow Nebraskan and 1-15 soldier Specialist Darren Howe died of injuries from a roadside bomb in Samarra, Iraq, in mid-October.

Howe's funeral is scheduled for Friday in his hometown of Beatrice, about two hours south of the Omaha suburbs of Papillion and LaVista where Cahill attended high school and college.

Though he was born in Norwood, Massachusetts, and lived in Wrentham, Massachusetts, as a youth, Cahill's family relocated to Nebraska before he began high school. The 15-year Army veteran is a graduate of Papillion-LaVista High and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he graduated with honors in 1999 and garnered an ROTC commission.

After graduating from high school in 1989, where he had been a star linebacker on the school football team, Cahill joined the Army and later became a decorated member of the Rangers.

His brother told the Star that Joel had a good sense of humor, was compassionate and cared about his troops. “I think being with his family is probably his favorite pastime,” Randy Cahill said, acknowledging nonetheless that his brother had spent most of the last four years abroad, including a 2003 deployment to Iraq.

Joel Cahill had earned several awards and honors, including a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Soldier's Medal, said Randy, adding that his brother was in full support of the war and strongly believed in America's mission in Iraq.

“They supported their elections and worked on infrastructure,” Randy said. “They probably spent more time on that than actual combat.”

Cahill leaves behind his wife, Mary, and two daughters — Faith, 4, and Brenna, 3.

Cahill's sister Erin Christen- sen, who lives in Gretna, Neb., said her brother “loved his job and loved what he did. He said he needed to do his job to keep his girls safe in the future.”

Other survivors include his parents, Larry and Barbara Cahill; brother Larry Jr., all from the Omaha area; and brother Jason, of Columbia, Missouri.

Cahill's unit was returning from a raid on an insurgent stronghold when the roadside bomb exploded near their Humvee.

“His unit and several other units were conducting a raid on a city,” said Larry Cahill Jr. “From what we understand, they completed their mission and were returning to base.”

Cahill's sister said her brother had mentioned that “the only thing that could kill me would be an IED and he said don't worry about that because it's just by chance and we can't keep worrying about a chance.”

Cahill will be buried Nov. 18 in Arlington National Cemetery. Not surprising, as Arlington is also Audie Murphy's final resting place.

To Child, Army Captain's Death Is Beyond Grasp
Georgia Captain Remembered As a Committed Father
Courtesy of  The Washington Post Staff

Yesterday, a cold, bright autumn day, 4-year-old Faith Cahill, bundled in a white hat and shiny black patent leather shoes, climbed onto her weeping mother's lap. Red and gold leaves floated down and lay on the grass of Arlington National Cemetery.

She watched from the front row as six somber soldiers folded the U.S. flag that had draped the shiny silver coffin of her father, Army Captain Joel E. Cahill, 34, who was killed in Iraq on November 6, 2005. He was on his fourth overseas tour — after two in Afghanistan and one previous tour in Iraq. He had been gone for most of her life. He was supposed to be home for good in January.


A procession arrives for the Arlington funeral of Army Captain Joel E. Cahill, killed November 6, 2005 in Iraq

A military band slowly played “America the Beautiful.” Major General Howard B. Bromberg took the flag in his crisp, white-gloved hands and held it out to her mother, Mary. Faith reached out for it with her little white-mittened hands.

A child giggled.

They say that very young children such as Faith and her sister, Brenna, 3, experience death at least twice — the first time, as at yesterday's funeral, uncomprehendingly. The children don't understand the words the chaplain said , including “forever,” “rest in peace” and “ashes to ashes.”

When they are older, maybe 8 or 9, they will realize that death isn't like what they see in cartoons. They will understand that a roadside bomb killed their father as he rode in the passenger seat of a Humvee, near the town of Dawr, about 85 miles north of Baghdad, and that unlike a cartoon character, he can't put himself back together again. It will hit that he really won't be coming home. And they will grieve.

They will have photographs and a box of medals that he was awarded in his 15 years in the Army — the Bronze Star for valor, the Soldier's Medal and the Purple Heart. And they will have the memories of others.

Perhaps someone will tell them that their father defied Army tradition and that at monthly gatherings at Fort Benning — not far from his home in Columbus, Ga. — when everyone was expected to leave children with babysitters, he organized a rebellion among young officers.

“I remember him coming in, holding an adorable little girl in his arms, and another one holding his hand,” his friend Maj. Steve Warren said from Iraq. “He just said: ‘I decided to bring the girls. Every minute counts.' ”

Cahill was born in Norwood, Massachusetts, and later moved to Nebraska. He joined the Army out of high school and received an ROTC officer's commission while at the University of Nebraska.

Cahill was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, the division in which Audie Murphy, the most decorated veteran of World War II, served.

On Cahill's first tour, one of his squads helped support the rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch. He had recently taken command of Bravo Company. His death hit hard, said Warren, the brigade's public affairs officer.

“We were devastated. There was an absolute dark cloud over this base for probably a week,” he said. They flew two Chinook helicopters with more than 60 high-ranking officers to another base for his memorial.

“We were taking some risks, but he commanded such respect . . . you've got to accept some risks,” Warren said.

At the funeral, as Cahill's coffin was lowered from the clattering horse-drawn caisson, Brenna, standing in the front row, turned away. Standing tiptoe, she stretched her arms overhead. Her mother lifted her, and the little girl laid her head on her shoulder.


Destined for greatness
Months after receiving the Army's most prestigious company command, Joel Cahill was killed in Iraq
Courtesy of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer


Mary Cahill, widow of Captain Joel Cahill who was killed in Iraq, with the Flag Box
presented to her by the Army. Cahill, a former Army nurse, is living
with her two childern, Faith 5 and Brenna 3 in a Columbus surburb.
More photos

It wasn't her first visit to Arlington National Cemetery.

And it undoubtedly won't be her last.

She and her husband had made several visits there in 2002 while she was attending a month-long nursing class at Walter Reed Hospital and he was enjoying leave time from the Army.

“We loved that beautiful place,” said Mary Cahill.

On this late autumn day in 2005, however, she was walking the rolling hills of this sacred land with a casualty assistance officer, the person charged with handling details of Captain Joel Cahill's funeral.

Resting place

From his first visit to Arlington, Joel had known it was the place he wanted to be buried, just in case he didn't make it back from Iraq.

“Oh, we had two earlier conversations on that subject, and another when he came home in July on R&R,” said Mary Cahill. “He never wavered. He didn't want anything special at his service, just a headstone like all the others buried there.”

Just like the one marking the grave of Joel's old special ops buddy, Staff Sergeant Joseph E. Suponcic, killed in Kosovo years ago.

Joel thought so much of Suponcic that he wore a silver bracelet on his wrist in remembrance of his pal. Mary now wears the bracelet.

From that gravesite Mary could see workers digging a nearby grave. She told the mortuary officer, “That's where Joel will be buried, I just know it.”

He told her that was not a certainty, that there were several funerals scheduled at Arlington on Friday, November 18, 2005.

But on the next day, when the family arrived for the services, they were taken to the exact spot she had predicted.

Phone call

Just two weeks earlier, Mary Cahill had been speaking on the phone with an old friend.

Sunday dinner with the neighbors had gone well, the girls had just been put to bed and Mary could spend some quality time with her friend just as soon as she put away a few things. Talking on her cell phone, she went into the garage.

That's when she heard the knock on the door.

“I peeked around the corner and saw two men in Class A's on the porch. My heart sank.”

As a former Army nurse, one married to a Ranger who had finally got himself an infantry company command, Mary Cahill knew why they were at her doorstep.

“Are you sure?” were the only words she could get out.

She immediately called Barb Cahill, Joel's mother.

“She could tell I was nervous, scared,” said Mary.

“Joel's dead, isn't he?” said Barb. Seconds later, Mary heard the screams of Joel's sister Erin through the phone.

“It was a horrible night,” Mary said.


More than 30 soldiers with close ties to Fort Benning were killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan over the past year and in each case, the next of kin were notified by soldiers from the nearest Army installation.

Many of them died the same way Joel Cahill did, from injuries suffered when a roadside bomb was detonated near their vehicles. Such a blast killed Cahill on November 6, 2006, near Ad Dawr, Iraq.

This isn't how the Cahill story was supposed to end.

After all, Captain Joel Cahill was commander of Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, the same company World War II's most decorated soldier, Audie Murphy, had commanded.

Commanders of Baker Company were destined to become Army stars.

When 1-15 commander Lieutenant Colonel Gary Brito picked him from the 3rd Brigade staff to head up B Company, Cahill knew immediately that it had once been Murphy's outfit. In fact, he'd written a paper on the life of Murphy while earning his commission through the Creighton University ROTC program.

“He pretty much knew all there is to know about Audie Murphy,” said Mary.

“But what was important to Joel,” she continued, “was that he was finally in charge of his own company. And he had promised himself he'd be the best commander he could be. He never really talked much about it being the same company that Audie Murphy commanded.”

“He was the finest Captain I've ever met,” said 3rd Brigade commander Colonel Steven Salazar. “He was incredibly competent, well grounded, very calm. Whenever I had a special project that needed to be done, I went to Joel.”

Salazar thought enough of Cahill to nominate him for the Army's MacArthur Leadership Award, which will be presented to Cahill's family in May.

Love and marriage

There was little to link Cahill and Murphy when the Gretna, Nebraska, resident joined the Army back in 1990, fresh out of high school, where he'd been an outstanding football player. He and a pal had planned to enlist together, recalled Cahill's mother, Barb.

“He passed his physical OK,” she laughed. “But the other boy flunked his. So Joel headed off to Fort Benning for basic training by himself, living in barracks not far from where his grandfather (John Joseph Foley) had trained back during World War II days. We were so proud of him the day he graduated. I asked him how he put up with all the yelling and screaming of his drill instructor and he told me, ‘Mom, I grew up with you — I'm used to it.' ”

It didn't take young Cahill long to realize he would not climb very far, or very fast, in today's Army without a college degree. So, after a few years as an enlisted man, during which he completed Ranger School, he separated from the Army briefly, enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha to pursue his degree and immediately joined nearby Creighton University's ROTC program.

It was there, in 1997, that he met a fellow ROTC cadet, Creighton nursing student Mary Mentele.

“I really didn't have much interest in him until my junior year,” she said this week at the north Columbus home she shares with their daughters, Faith, 5, and Brenna, 3 1/2.

On May 15, 1999, the same weekend that Cahill completed his degree requirements and earned his commission, the couple got married. Mary graduated the following spring but delayed going on active duty until 2001 because of the birth of Faith.

Their first assignment as a couple: Fort Stewart, Georgia. “We loved it,” said Mary. “We lived 15 minutes from the beach.”

Joel's goal at that time was to get into the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, stationed at Hunter Army Airfield.

“We studied together for months,” said Mary. “The selection process is tough. One of the problems was that he wasn't that strong a swimmer. And I am. So we worked together to make him stronger. And he dedicated himself to getting better. He was a perfectionist in everything he did.”

Saying goodbye

As a member of the 1-75, Cahill was deployed to Afghanistan in 2002, then to Iraq for the 2003 invasion. One of his squads helped in the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, who was held captive during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom I.

While Cahill served with the Rangers, even extending for a year, Mary, also holding the rank of captain, worked in the operating room at Fort Stewart's Winn Army Hospital.

They came to Fort Benning in 2004, Joel for the advanced captains' course, Mary to work at Martin Army Community Hospital. Upon completion of his course, Joel joined Salazar's staff as a deputy operations officer and was named Baker Company commander on Aug. 29, 2005.

Shortly after moving to Forward Operating Base Wilson, home of the 1-15, Cahill was involved in a vehicle rollover. Though unhurt, he quickly e-mailed Mary, fearing that other wives might tell her of the incident. “If it was up to him, he'd have kept that news to himself,” she said.

On the day he was killed, Cahill and several soldiers had completed a mission and were headed home when their Humvee was rocked by a roadside bomb.

A memorial service was held days later at FOB Wilson, one attended by more than 60 3rd Brigade officers who flew from Baqouba aboard two giant Chinook helicopters.

Cahill was buried a week later at Arlington, not terribly far from the final resting place of Audie Murphy.


2 A military horse-drawn caisson carrying the body of Army Capt. Joel Cahill makes its
way through  Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, November 18, 2005


Major General Howard Bromberg, left, salutes Barbara Cahill, the mother of Army Captain Joel
Cahill, right, after presenting her with a flag as Cahill's widow, Mary, center,
holds his 4-year-old daugher, Faith,during burial services at Arlington National
Cemetery Friday, November 18, 2005




Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment