GREENSBORO, N.C. — To find Army Spec. David Emanuel Hickman on the morning after his unit returned to Fort Bragg from Iraq, you had to drive 100 miles north, to his home town. Up Highway 29, less than two clicks from the northeast Greensboro cul-de-sac where he grew up, Hickman was in Lot 54 in the Garden of Peace at Lakeview Memorial Park Cemetery.
Freshly turned red soil covered his coffin, which went into the ground two weeks and a day before he was due home. There were two shriveled carnations on the damp dirt. There was no marker yet, no indication that this was a soldier’s grave.
Hickman, 23, was killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb that ripped through his armored truck Nov. 14 — eight years, seven months and 25 days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq began.
He was the 4,474th member of the U.S. military to die in the war, according to the Pentagon.
And he may have been the last.
With the final U.S. combat troops crossing out of Iraq into Kuwait, those who held Hickman dear are struggling to come to terms with the particular poignancy of his fate. As the unpopular war that claimed his life quietly rumbles to a close, you can hear within his inner circle echoes of John F. Kerry’s famous 1971 congressional testimony on Vietnam:
How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
“Thank God if David is the last one to die, because that means nobody else will have to go through this,” said Logan Trainum, one of Hickman’s closest friends. “But it’s crazy that he died. No matter your position on this war — if you’re for or against it — I think everybody thinks we shouldn’t have been over there anymore.”
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