Marine, Former Candidate Killed In Afghanistan

Bill Cahir wasn't a typical Marine — he was over 30 when he enlisted. After a couple tours in Iraq, he decided to run for Pa.'s 5th Congressional District. He lost in the Democratic primary, and then decided to return to active duty. He was killed earlier this month in Afghanistan, and will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on Monday.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Bill Cahir had a very unusual resume. He was a Washington correspondent for a Pennsylvania newspaper, a candidate for Congress, and a Marine sergeant. Cahir was on his third foreign tour when he was killed on August 13th. He was on a combat operation in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand. He'll be buried today with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Cynthia Berger has this profile.

CYNTHIA BERGER: Bill Cahir made his decision to join the Marine Reserve after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His friend David Price remembers feeling surprised.

Mr. DAVID PRICE: You know, you hear somebody say at age 35 or whatever, I'm enlisting in the Marines. You go, you're out of your mind. But it's what he had to do.

BERGER: Joe Owens said it wasn't just that Cahir was a decade older than his drill sergeants at boot camp. Cahir also had a successful career as a Washington correspondent. Owens was Cahir's boss at the Express-Times, a Pennsylvania-based newspaper.

Mr. JOE OWENS (Express-Times): Bill had a lot of stories about his boot camp experience. I mean, we've all heard the stories about Paris Island and about how challenging it is physically and mentally.

BERGER: Cahir wrote about boot camp in 2004 for the paper's Fourth of July edition. He described how in a final test, the new recruits navigated an obstacle course at night, under fire, in the rain, crawling through puddles beneath barbed wire. Joe Owens reads an excerpt.

Mr. OWENS: (Reading) I advanced through every puddle, including one at the end that might've been 12 feet long. I helped another recruit drag an ammunition can full of sand. We finished. Another recruit looked at me and cursed. I was dirtier and wetter than anyone else, but I had stayed with my team and we had finished together.

BERGER: Cahir served two tours of duty in Iraq. He was lead turret gunner for a civil affairs team that worked with Iraqi community leaders. Between deployments, he worked at the Express-Times. Then in 2008, he told Joe Owens he wanted to serve his country in a different way.

Mr. OWENS: Bill had come back from his second tour in Iraq and was back to work and contacted me and said, Joe, I'm resigning effective, you know, immediately, basically, and I'm going to run for Congress in my hometown.

BERGER: Cahir was one of three Democrats who competed in the primary to represent Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional District. He used his experience in Iraq as a campaign talking point. In this 2008 interview, Cahir advocates a cautious withdrawal, using the American military to stabilize the country.

Sergeant BILL CAHIR (Marine Corps): And that means encouraging the Iraqis to hold provincial elections, and helping providing the security that would be needed for those provincial elections.

BERGER: Owens remembers that during the campaign, the candidate's name confused voters.

Mr. OWENS: It's spelled C-A-H-I-R. His name is pronounced care.

BERGER: To clear things up, Cahir made a funny little campaign ad. You see him on his front porch, a lean, handsome man in a military brush cut. A black dog sits at his feet, and a smiling, young woman beside him holds a cardboard sign with his name in big, block letters.

Sergeant CAHIR: This is my wife, Renee. This is Frankenstein. And I'm Bill Cahir. And I approved this message because…

Ms. RENEE CAHIR: Wait. That's how you pronounce our last name?

BERGER: Cahir lost the primary. He was deployed for a third time this past spring. He died trying to ensure secure presidential elections in Afghanistan. Cahir was wearing body armor, but a bullet caught him in the neck. Bill Cahir was 40 years old. His wife, Renee, is expecting twins.

For NPR News, I'm Cynthia Berger in State College, Pennsylvania.

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