Category: Archive

An Irish hero

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Cahill, 62, was a physician’s assistant working in the Soldier Readiness Center on November 5 when a gunman fatally shot him. According to eyewitness accounts, Cahill was one of the first to be killed.
“It was just supposed to be a routine day,” said his widow Joleen Murphy Cahill in a telephone interview with the Echo from the couple’s home in Cameron, Texas surrounded, she said, by an overflowing number of books on Ireland.
Michael Cahill retired after more than 20 years of service in the Army National Guard as a Chief Warrant Officer, but continued to work at Ft. Hood as a civilian contractor assessing and assisting soldiers as they arrived home from Afghanistan and Iraq.
He was often one of the last on the ground to send the troops off to combat theater. With a bushy white mane of hair and large stature, he was a fixture on base known for his intellect, omni present coffee cup, and a passing resemblance to Santa Claus.
A nurse, one of the first on the scene of the shooting, while triaging the fallen moments after the shooting ended, said she knew in an instant the man lying in civilian clothing was Michael Cahill.
In addition to his wife, Cahill is survived by his daughter Keely Vanacker and grandson Brody Vanacker of Kerrville, Texas, a son James Cahill of Levelland, Texas, daughter Kerry Cahill of Chicago, IL, a sister Marilyn Cahill Attebery of Spokane Valley, Washington, and a sister, Rebecca Cahill, of Lincoln City, Oregon.
The Fort Hood shootings happened in the morning, but it was not until 11 p.m. that night that a patrol car pulled up to the Cahill residence a few miles away to bring the news that Michael Cahill was among the dead.
“My father said there are only two kinds of people, those that are Irish and those that want to be,” recalled his daughter Keely.
Kerry Cahill reminisced about her time in 2004 as a student at Queens University in Belfast, where her father had urged her to study.
Michael Cahill went over to visit with his daughter while she studied drama, Irish literature, Irish language, and gender studies in theater at Queens.
For a man that had worked most of his life in the care of soldiers, stitching wounds, and counseling many men and women who had been to war, Cahill was traumatized by one thing during his visit to Northern Ireland: the roads.
“He could not believe they expected not one but two cars to drive on the narrow roads on the northern coast,” recounted Kerry.
He made his daughter drive during his stay.
“I got to scare my dad a little bit,” she said.
Michael Cahill was born in Washington State, and had many hobbies including photography, collecting antiques, stamps, coins, and researching genealogy.
His sister, Rebecca Cahill, said her brother had pieced the Irish genealogy of their family, and that he believed they came from Cork and Clare, but that he had never quite found the family link that brought them from Ireland to America.
“He always had a quirky Irish sense of humor that made everyone laugh,” she said.
President Barack Obama said of Cahill: “Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill had served in the National Guard and worked as a physician’s assistant for decades. A husband and father of three, he was so committed to his patients that on the day he died, he was back at work just weeks after having had a heart attack.”
When details surfaced of some of the circumstances of their father’s death, including that alleged shooter was an American Muslim in uniform, the Cahill daughters went on national television to ask for restraint and compassion towards those in the Muslim community.
Kerry, who recalls her time in time in Belfast, where a legacy of stereotypes and sectarian strife still resonates, said in an appearance on the CBS Morning Show, “You can’t blanket a whole group of people and there’s extremists in every religion, and there’s extremists all over the world.”
Daughter Keely added: “The death of our father or any of these victims shouldn’t be an excuse or a reason to begin to hate an entire group of people.”
Joleen Cahill plays the organ at St. Monica’s church where her husband’s funeral service was held. Over 500 people came to say good-bye last Sunday, and the military gave her husband the full military honors of a soldier who died in battle.
A recording of Tommy Sands “There Were Roses” accompanied the casket as pallbearers brought Michael Grant Cahill’s body into the sanctuary.
Strains of the Choir of Belfast’s “Irish Blessing” were played at the conclusion of the service inside the packed church. Outside, an honor guard handed the folded American flag to Joleen Cahill while bagpipes overwhelmed the whispered words of the officer as he extended his condolences to the family.
Cahill’s ashes will be scattered in the spring in Montana, but the family said they wold always feel their father, brother, and husband’s Irish spirit amongst them.

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