'How Do You Ask a Man to Be the Last Man to Die' for the Iraq War?

12/19/2011 05:05 pm ET | Updated Feb 18, 2012

Sunday, I -- probably along with millions of other Americans -- received this short e-mail from President Obama:

Early this morning, the last of our troops left Iraq.

As we honor and reflect on the sacrifices that millions of men and women made for this war, I wanted to make sure you heard the news.

Bringing this war to a responsible end was a cause that sparked many Americans to get involved in the political process for the first time. Today's outcome is a reminder that we all have a stake in our country's future, and a say in the direction we choose.

In previous messages on our pullout from Iraq, the president mentioned the number of American military casualties the Iraq war has cost us. One time it was "more than 4,400," another time "nearly 4,500."

In recent days, we have seen other more specific numbers., for example, is reporting a figure of 4,484. A couple of days ago, the Washington Post was not only specific but also hopeful as it reported that:

[Army Spec. David E. Hickman] 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.

Of course, all Americans hope that no more members of the U.S. military will die in Iraq.

But we all know that a limited U.S. military presence will continue in Iraq for training, logistics and other purposes. We pray that they will all be safe and -- with the utmost respect, gratitude and sympathy for the Hickman family -- that the 4,474th U.S. military casualty will indeed be the last in Iraq.

Being the last casulaty, however, will be no consolation for the family of Hickman, who was killed by a roadside bomb on Nov. 14.

The last time Hickman called home was Nov. 13, a Sunday. He was at Joint Security Station Muthana, the small operating base in Baghdad that housed his platoon. He told his family he was excited to be coming home before Christmas, according to friends.

The following day, shortly before midnight, Army officials showed up in Greensboro to tell Hickman's parents that their son had been killed by a makeshift bomb.

Exactly four weeks later, Veronica Hickman sat quietly in her living room, wearing a T-shirt with her son's military photo printed on its front.

The words "In Iraq, the last to fall ..." in the title of the Post's piece immediately brought to my mind John F. Kerry's 1971 words before a Congressional Committee hearing testimony on the Vietnam War: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

And so it did to J. Freedom du Lac, the author of the Post article "In Iraq, the last to fall: David Hickman, the 4,474th U.S. service member killed," in which he quotes Kerry's famous words and also Logan Trainum, one of Hickman's closest friends, saying,

Thank God if David is the last one to die, because that means nobody else will have to go through this...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.

Whether Hickman is in fact the last man to die in the Iraq war or not, Americans mourn his death as much as they have mourned each one of the "more than 4,400" or each one of the "nearly 4,500" brave troops who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. And, while the president may be technically correct when he says, "Early this morning, the last of our troops left Iraq," we will all hold our breath until the last of our troops really leaves Iraq.

Read more about the last hero to fall in Iraq here