Monday, May 28, 2007

Daniel P. Cagle dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

U.S. Army Pfc. Daniel Cagle didn't want to return to Iraq in April after a two-week leave. But the Hawthorne-area man knew he had to go.

"He said, `I have my friends there. They are my second family and I've got to watch out for them,"' said his older sister, Nicole Cagle. "He was so proud to be right next to these people that he fought with. That was the only thing that made him want to be back: To protect them and lead them."

The 22-year-old man's fellow soldiers said that's what he was doing Wednesday when he died - leading them on a patrol near Ramadi in search of insurgents.

Cagle died shortly after a bomb exploded when he and Staff Sgt. Steve Butcher Jr., 27, of Penfield, N.Y., entered a house. The blast threw the rest of the team back and killed Butcher instantly.

Cagle died in a helicopter over Balad on his way to a hospital.

"He saved the rest of the team's lives that night by being the one to be up front, because he cared too much about the rest of us to let anyone else past him," his fellow soldier and best friend, Matt Myers, 28, of Chicago, wrote in an e-mail to Cagle's mother. "I love him and miss him very much."

Cagle, who died three days after his birthday, knew the risks when he enlisted three years ago. He knew a war was under way but followed a family tradition into the military. His older sister is a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force.

Cagle, assigned to the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, deployed overseas in January.

He returned home for a brief leave in April, spending time with his sister, mother and close friends, relating some of his harsh experiences.

"He said he had killed people. He said, `I am doing that. That's what I am trained to do,"' said his mother, Gail Johnson-Roth. "He said, `If you asked if I felt any remorse for that, I would tell you no. I'm over there to get the bad guys, to do the mission and keep my buddies safe."'

Cagle grew up just outside Hawthorne in the unincorporated Del Aire area, attending Anza Elementary School and Dana Middle School in the Wiseburn School District.

Described as a "wild and crazy" teenager, Cagle became mischievous in high school, attending several campuses - Mira Costa in Manhattan Beach, Carson, Hawthorne and El Segundo. He finished up at Casa by the Sea in Ensenada, Mexico, a tough program for teens with behavioral issues.

"He was very, very intelligent. He always was … a little bit of a challenge for the teachers," his mother said. "When I sent him to Casa by the Sea, I was bent on him finishing high school at least."

Johnson-Roth said she was very surprised when the freewheeling and rebellious teen who challenged authority and the rules decided to join the Army. Soon, he decided he wanted to make it his life.

"He found his rhythm in the military," his mother said. "He loved the Army."

When he returned home on leave, family members and friends witnessed how he had matured. Physically, he had dropped nearly 30 pounds to become a 6-foot-3, 190-pound "lean fighting machine," his mother said.

His friends saw his macho and soft sides during that visit, as he talked privately about the war.

"He was so proud to be a soldier," said friend Alex Avila, 22. "He found something that he could do. He did it well. If I was in Iraq, I would love to be under his command."

His friend, Erin Gerety, 22, saw him cry for the first time.

"I see him as a hero," she said. "I know that he just went down fighting. I know he went there with the purest intentions. It sucks that it had to be him."

Cagle communicated with his family and friends through his MySpace page, which displayed photographs of him in Iraq.

The site displays his interests: surfing at 26th Street in Manhattan Beach; music by Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, Sublime and "anything with good guitar licks;" the movies, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Anchorman;" the works of historian Stephen Ambrose; and "The Simpsons."

He loved watching military programs on the History and Discovery channels.

Cagle last spoke to his sister three days before his death. She needed to talk to him about a problem, and messaged him through the Web site.

The 24-year-old woman said she and her brother were extremely close. Girls always were after him, she said, describing the young man as "quite a catch."

His sister said she doesn't know if her brother saw her message.

He called anyway, perhaps sensing that she needed to hear his voice.

"He said, `You know, Nicole, don't worry about me. I love you very much,"' she recalled. "He said, `I am doing fine. I have my friends here.'

"He said, `I wish I could be there to hug you."'

Services for Cagle are pending.

From the Daily Breeze