As the last U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq over the weekend, a crowd gathered in Greensboro, N.C., to honor Army Spec. David Hickman, who died in an explosion Nov. 14, two weeks before he was supposed to go home. Hickman, 23, "bears the symbolic freight" of being the last of nearly 4,500 members of the American military to be killed in a war that began in the tense aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks. Here's what you should know:
What was Hickman's job in Iraq?
His unit shipped out from Fort Bragg in May. Hickman — a black belt in taekwondo who jokingly called himself Zeus for his impressive physique — was in a platoon that did "presence patrols," walking through neighborhoods to let insurgents know that American soldiers were still around, Spec. Zack Zornes, a member of Hickman's platoon, tells The Washington Post. "There were days on end where me and Hickman would be sitting in his room, being like: 'Why are we even here? What are we doing?'" Zornes says. "We were just doing police work."
How did Hickman die?
The paratrooper from North Carolina was killed when a roadside bomb tore into his armored truck on Nov. 14 — eight years, seven months, and 23 days after the death of Marine Pvt. Jonathan Lee Gifford, the first American killed in the war. Gifford died just two days after the invasion began.
Are his loved ones bitter?
When his mother, Veronica, was told of her son's death, she said: "I am proud of him. He died for his country." But she also said that she wished President Obama hadn't announced in October that all U.S. military personnel would leave Iraq by year's end, because "it made them targets." Hickman is survived by his wife, Calli, whom he married just before his deployment.
Is there any bright side to this sad tale?
Some friends say it's fitting that Hickman — a star linebacker in high school — would stand out in death. "That is so like David," says Logan Trainum, one of Hickman's closest friends. "He wasn't going to go out quietly. He's going to go down with a place in history."