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Major James Michael Ahearn
96th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S.A.


Roadside bomb in Iraq kills two Special Ops soldiers
 . . . The military also said that two Fort Bragg-based members of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion died in Iraq when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb during a patrol in Baghdad.The soldiers were identified as Sgt. Keith A. Kline, 24, of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and Maj. James M. Ahearn, 43, of California, according to the Army Special Operations Command. Kline was a signal support specialist, and Ahearn was a civil affairs officer. Kline is survived by his mother, Betty Kline, and stepfather, Allen Lipstraw, of Oak Harbor, Ohio. Ahearn is survived by his wife, Lina [sic], and their daughter, Khadijah Mariam, both of Raeford; his mother, Connie Ahearn, of Concord, Calif.; and his father, James F. Ahearn, of Phoenix, Ariz.
Charlotte News & Observer 9 July 2007

Maj. James Michael "Jimmy" Ahearn
Army Maj. Jim "Jimmy" Ahearn, a former Concord resident, died in Iraq in a roadside bomb Thursday. He was 43. Though he most recently lived in North Carolina with his wife, Lena, and 1½-year-old daughter, Kadi, Ahearn lived in Concord as a child—from 1977 to 1982, when he graduated from Clayton Valley High School, said his brother, Kevin Ahearn. His mother, Connie, still lives in Concord.

"He loved baseball, he loved football—to watch, not to play—and we always biked and hiked together," said Kevin Ahearn, 39. "A lot of his friends still live in Concord, so I think they would want to know what happened." Kevin Ahearn said the services haven't been planned yet, but will probably happen in North Carolina, where his brother had lived for the last two years. After joining the Army 18 years ago, Jim Ahearn moved around a lot and even got his college degree while serving in the military. Kevin Ahearn said he didn't know if other soldiers were killed in the same bombing.

He was the recipient of many medals throughout his career, including two bronze stars received for valor during the battle for Baghdad. In addition to his wife, daughter, brother and mother, Ahearn is survived by his father, Jim Ahearn, along with brother Sean and sister Kelly.

Contra Costa Times 6 July 2007

James M. Ahearn Major James Michael "Jimmy" Ahearn fought for and died for his country July 5, 2007, a victim of a roadside bomb. Jimmy served in the Army for 18+ years and was stationed in Iraq when his unit came under attack. He was the recipient of many medals throughout his career in the army, including two bronze stars received for valor during the battle for Baghdad. Jimmy had a passion for learning. He loved hiking, biking and gardening, but mainly shared his love of life with his wife and daughter. He is survived by his wife, Lena and daughter Kadi. He will be remembered as a loving husband and father, and was the son of Jim and Connie and sibling of Kevin, Kelly and Sean, as well as by all those who love him.

The Arizona Republic 8 July 2007

Major James Michael "Jimmy" Ahearn
Major James Michael "Jimmy" Ahearn fought for and died for his country July 5, 2007, a victim of a roadside bomb. Jimmy served in the Army for 18+ years and was stationed in Iraq when his unit came under attack. He was the recipient of many medals throughout his career in the army, including two bronze stars received for valor during the battle for Baghdad. Jimmy had a passion for learning. He loved hiking, biking and gardening, but mainly shared his love of life with his wife and daughter. He is survived by his wife, Lena and daughter Kadi. He will be remembered as a loving husband and father, and was the son of Jim and Connie and sibling of Kevin, Kelly and Sean, as well as by all those who love him.
The Arizona Republic 8 July 2007

SOLDIER KILLED IN IRAQ WAS DIABLO VALLEY COLLEGE GRADUATE
A decorated soldier with roots in the Bay Area was killed in Iraq on Thursday when an improvised explosive device went off while he was patrolling in Baghdad, the U.S. Department of Defense reported. Maj. James Michael Ahearn, 43, was a civil affairs officer assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C. Ahearn was raised in California and graduated from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill in 1988 with an associate's degree in liberal arts. He later earned a bachelor's degree from Campbell University in North Carolina, according to the defense department. He entered military service in 1989 and served in Korea, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Germany. He was first sent to Iraq as an engineer officer in 2003.

Throughout his years of service, Ahearn earned a Bronze Star for valor, a Bronze Star, two Meritorious Service medals, five Army Commendation medals, two Army Achievement medals, a Korean Defense Service Medal, a Humanitarian Service Medal, two National Defense Service medals, an Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Services Medal, a Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), a Presidential Unit Citation, a Valorous Unit Award, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and an Army Service Ribbon, according to the defense department.

Ahearn is survived by his wife, Lina [sic], and their daughter, Khadijah Mariam, both of Raeford, N.C.; his father James F. Ahearn, of Phoenix, Ariz.; and his mother, Connie Ahearn of Concord.

— Bay City News Wire KPIX-TV, 10 July 2007

Tragic End to A Soldier's Love Story
He was her heart and soul and now Lena Ahearn
is dealing with the fact that she has lost her loved one in Iraq
Fort Bragg Army Major Jim Ahearn known as Jimmy by many died in a roadside bombing last Thursday. Monday his wife, who was born in Iraq, spoke to Eyewitness News about her husband's life with his family—and his death.
James
James and Lena Ahern's wedding
Lena Ahearn remembers the day her husband, Major James Ahearn left for his third tour of duty in Iraq. He wrote a note to his family on their refrigerator bulletin board. "No matter how far we are apart, our hearts will always be together. I love you guys so much," the soldier wrote on the note. Jimmy died in Iraq along with another Fort Bragg soldier. Lena is Iraqi and she met Jimmy in the Green Zone where she worked in Baghdad. They fell in love instantly. "He tried to do anything... anything you want just to make you happy," Lena told Eyewitness News reporter Gilbert Baez. "Like... whenever I cry... he cried. Whenever I'm happy... he's happy. This is the man I always dreamed of but he got to go so fast," Lena said. Lena says she's the first Iraqi woman to fall in love with and marry an American soldier after the war in Iraq began in 2003. Her family received death threats after the marriage. The repercussions forced her mother and sister to flee Iraq. Lena explains, "My mother and my little sister are now living in a refugee camp in a dirty little place. She has the diabetes. She have a blood pressure and she's sick over there. My other two sisters and my brother, they stayed in Iraq and now their lives in danger too because of me."
It's easy to see why Lena loved her husband. He always left her flowers, cards and note around the house. "He put them on top of refrigerator, inside the refrigerator beside the milk where I have my coffee creamer in the cabinet in the kitchen. In the laundry room. Whenever I open my draw[er]. When I go to the bathroom, I brush my teeth I found one on the mirror," Lena said. The couple has a 17-month-old daughter and Lena wants her to know how her father lived and not the horrible way he died. Lena said, "I'm kind of ashamed and embarrassing because he died in my country. So, I would love to be a citizen now." Ahearn was one of two Fort Bragg-based members of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion killed last week. Ahearn was 43. [see also: video]
— ABC11TV.com 9 July 2007

Iraqi woman mourns U.S. soldier husband
RAEFORD, N.C.—Maj. James Ahearn met his future wife during his second tour of Iraq, converted to Islam to marry her and brought her home to the United States. Two years later, the Iraqi woman is mourning his death. Ahearn, 43, was killed Thursday in Baghdad when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb. His widow, Lena Ahearn, said she feels ashamed her husband died in her country at the hands of her people. Ahearn, a member of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade at Fort Bragg, was on his third tour of Iraq when he was killed. He had served in the Army for 18 years and was supposed to retire in 2009. "Jimmy was the greatest gift I ever had,'' Lena said from the couple's home near the Army post where she lives with their 17-month-old daughter, Kadi. "I will never regret marrying him for two years and moving to the United States.'' Lena Ahearn said her husband tried to use his new belief in Islam to bridge the cultural gap between American soldiers and the Iraqi people. "He told them there are no differences between people,'' she said. Now Lena Ahearn says she wants to become an American citizen, which she thinks would have made her husband proud. "He was the strongest and bravest man I ever saw in my life,'' she said.
Charleston Daily Mail 10 July 2007

Iraqi wife mourns the US soldier she loved

An American soldier who fell in love with an Iraqi woman in Baghdad and converted to Islam to marry her has been killed by a roadside bomb. Major James Ahearn, 43, met his wife Lena during his second tour in Iraq when she was working in the Green Zone, the fortified American compound. They set up home near his base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Mrs Ahearn yesterday mourned the death of her husband and said she was "ashamed and embarrassed" he had been killed at the hands of her countrymen.
"Jimmy was the greatest gift I ever had," she said from the couple's home, where she lives with their 17-month-old daughter Kadi. "I will never regret marrying him and moving to the US." Major Ahearn was killed during his third tour in Iraq. A civil affairs officer, he worked with Iraqis on reconstruction projects to improve basic facilities. He had served in the US Army for 18 years and was due to retire in 2009. Mrs. Ahearn said her husband used his new Islamic faith to try to bridge the cultural gap between Americans and the Iraqis. "He told them there are no differences between people," she said. Before he left for Iraq a final time, he left a note on the refrigerator that said: "No matter how far we are apart, our hearts will always be together. I love you guys so much."
Mrs. Ahearn said her family had received death threats after her wedding. Her mother and sister had been forced to flee the country but she did not regret marrying a soldier and moving to America. "He was the strongest and bravest man I ever saw."
The Telegraph 11 July 2007

Family, soldiers pay tribute to fallen comrades

About 300 people filled the chapel at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Chapel on Fort Bragg for the memorial service. Another 100 soldiers and friends sat under a small tent in the parking lot and watched the service on flat-screen TVs.
Kevin Ahearn's big brother and best friend is gone.
Maj. James M. Ahearn, 43, was killed in Baghdad on July 5 when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb. Sgt. Keith A. Kline, 24, also was killed in the blast. "I think he was doing exactly what he believed in," Kevin Ahearn said. James Ahearn and Kline were assigned to Company B, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade. The battalion remembered both men Thursday morning at a memorial service at John F. Kennedy Memorial Chapel on Fort Bragg. About 300 people filled the chapel. Another 100 soldiers and friends sat under a small tent in the parking lot and watched the service on three flat-screen TVs.
Kevin Ahearn said he remembers getting e-mails from his brother in Iraq asking him to collect toys and send them to Baghdad. "He never asked for anything for himself, it was always about the kids," Kevin Ahearn said. Both soldiers' boots, M-4 rifles, dog tags and helmets were displayed at the front of the chapel. They were flanked by the American flag and battalion colors. "It is humbling to have soldiers with such courage and character serving in the ranks of the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade," said Col. Ferdinand Irizarry, commander of the unit. "Maj. Ahearn and Sgt. Kline were a microcosm of all that is good about America. They don't come any better." It was Ahearn's third time in Iraq.
Maj. Don Sculli said Ahearn was known as "Grandpa" because he was one of the oldest soldiers in the unit. In preparation for his speech, Sculli printed out all of the messages about Ahearn on an online tribute site. "I laughed and cried when this task ran my printer out of paper," Sculli said. Ahearn was known as a smart and compassionate leader who held himself and his soldiers to a high standard. But, most of all, he was a loving husband and father to his daughter, Khadijah. It was during his second tour that he met his Iraqi wife, Lena. Lena said earlier this month that when he was home, Ahearn bought her a card, a flower and a doughnut every Sunday morning. Sculli joked that when that story hit the newspaper, it put pressure on all of Ahearn's friends. "Jimmy, buddy, you've got us all in trouble now," Sculli said. "Now we're going to have to step up our standards on Sunday morning." . . . Ahearn will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery next week.
The Fayetteville Observer 20 July 2007

Jim Ahern and his Dad Shared e-mails reveal fallen GI's dedication
Jim Ahearn wasn't sure that anyone was interested in hearing from his dead son, Maj. James Michael "Jimmy" Ahearn, killed July Fourth outside of Baghdad. Ahearn sent copies of e-mails he'd received from his son in Iraq to everyone from the president on down. Elected officials. Political candidates. Newspaper, radio and TV reporters. When we first talked earlier this week, he hadn't heard back from any of them.
"My son passionately believed in what he was doing over there," Jim told me. "Whether I completely agreed with him or not doesn't matter, and honestly I will never express my views. But in honor of my son I will express his." Maj. Ahearn was 43 years old and on his third tour of duty. During the initial battle to secure Baghdad, he received several medals for bravery. He met his future wife, Lena, around that time. She is an Iraqi and was working with the military as a translator. They have a daughter, Kadi. His father is a retired FBI agent who headed the Phoenix office during his final years on the job. Jim Ahearn watched his son rise from an enlisted man in the first Gulf War to an officer charged with developing relationships with Iraqi civilians. Maj. Ahearn wasn't a naive, wide-eyed kid. He was a mature soldier who was convinced that he understood what was at stake in the war. That's why Jim decided to share the e-mails.

We don't often listen to soldiers, however. For one thing, they don't speak with one voice. In Washington this week, politicians on both sides of the aisle were able to trot out Iraq war veterans who were opposed to the conflict or in favor of it. Jimmy Ahearn didn't have that kind of agenda. He wrote home because he wanted friends and family to know what his life was like. And why he was risking it. It's tough to "interview" a lost soldier, but I told Jim that his son deserved to be heard. They all deserve to be heard. They've earned it. The least we can do, every now and then, is to listen to one of them. Like this one:

"Just wanted to let you know that I am still alive and well, despite an ever-increasing presence of grey hair!" Ahearn wrote July 3. "It's been an exciting week, but yesterday was the best yet - we had our Fourth of July a day early. After 43 missions of nothing too exciting - a couple of firefights, but that's to be expected - we finally met up with the big, bad IED. Some jackass initiated his little bomb as my truck was passing by (somewhat little anyway) - scared the bejesus out of me, but I'm fine. ... I'm getting way too old for this; tomorrow had better be a quiet day!" It wasn't. A roadside bomb killed Maj. Ahearn and another soldier, and gravely wounded a third.

"It was July Fourth there," his father said. "He knew that he was in a dangerous place doing dangerous work. But he loved the Army. And he didn't want to leave a tough job to someone else." The son explained that view in a previous e-mail, writing, "Between the four guys on my team we have a combined sixty-six years of military experience. If we were to get the hell out of here, some poor kid would be left doing the job - and we're already losing enough good kids. Besides, I know I keep saying this, and I'm not sure anyone stateside believes me, but there are a lot of good people here who really are trying to make a difference and need some help. There's no doubt in my mind that if we left, they'd all be dead. "I wish I could just sit all the Iraqi entities down in a room, pitch my plan to rid the place of Al Qaeda, and promise that the Americans will leave shortly thereafter (or at least take up positions out in the desert on the Iranian border, which the average Iraqi wouldn't mind at all). I'll figure out the whole Iran thing later. I never realized saving the world was so damned hard!"

Ahearn believed that the war could be won only by working with the people. "This neighborhood was attacked by a car bomb on 22 April, killed six, injured a couple dozen," he wrote a while back. "Why? Because of their diversity; a common technique is to commit some random act of violence as a catalyst for sectarian infighting, after which either the Sunnis or Shia come out on top. There are now large swathes of Baghdad which are homogenous as a result. "Anyway, these people reacted differently. This neighborhood (Sunni, Shia, Christian and Kurd) came together. They cared for the injured, put up the homeless, built makeshift barriers around the neighborhood to prevent such a thing from happening again. "I meet a lot of well educated, modest, polite people who couldn't care less about a Muslim religious war or global politics, they just want the electricity to come on and for their kids to be safe at school."

Jim had a bad feeling about his son's long stints in a war zone. Before Maj. Ahearn went on his last mission, his dad wrote to him: "Son, I will tell you once again that you are a good man with his head and his heart in the right place. I'm sure you're right in your analysis and never question that. Being a selfish father, I worry about you first and the rest of the world later. Get the hell out of there as soon as you can. You're pressing your luck too much."

The Ahearn family received a letter from the White House a day or so ago. Jim contacted me after he read it. It surprised him. It appears to be a standard condolence that is sent to each military family that loses someone in the war, only this one included a handwritten inscription. "I read your e-mails with Jimmy," it reads. "I was touched by your son's courage—God bless you, Sir." It's signed "George Bush."

Maj. James Michael "Jimmy" Ahearn will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C., but not for several weeks. "That wasn't at our request," his father told me. "Apparently, there is quite a backlog."

Arizona Republic 19 July 2007

Arlington Cemetery burial detail

Fallen Muslim American Soldier Mourned
Major James Michael Ahearn had a near perfect life. The 43-year-old career army officer was newly married and recently became a father for the first time. On July 5th, during a routine patrol in Iraq, a roadside bomb exploded, killing Major Ahearn and his driver. For Urdu TV's Abdul Aziz Khan, VOA's Jim Bertel has more on this fallen American soldier.

A new dawn beckons at Fort Bragg Military Base in North Carolina. It is one of the most famous military bases in the United States and is home to the famed 82nd Airborne Division. There is also a small mosque at the base, and Muslim soldiers of the U.S. Army gathered here earlier this week to pray and mourn the loss of a fellow soldier. The soldier they are remembering is Major James Michael Ahearn. While in Iraq, Ahearn converted to Islam and married an Iraqi woman named Lena. In 2005, they moved back to North Carolina where they had a daughter and named her "Khadija," after the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.

Eventually, Major Ahearn was sent back to Iraq. On July 5th, he and his driver were killed when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle. Chaplain Khan was sent to inform Lena Ahearn of her husband's death. "When Major Ahearn died, the Army wanted to send a Muslim along with the casualty officer, so they contacted me," he said. "I went with them and met his wife. Obviously, it was a huge shock for her and there was nothing I could say that would take away her pain. We were without words."

His colleagues remember Major James Michael Ahearn as a very quiet and peaceful man. He was given an Islamic burial earlier this week at Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for many of America's fallen heroes.

Inna lillahi wainna ilayhi rajighoun
"To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return" (Qur'an, surah 2, verse 156)
Maj. James Michael Ahearn was a civil affairs officer assigned to 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C. He died July 5, 2007, from wounds sustained in an improvised explosive device attack while conducting a patrol during combat operations in Baghdad, Iraq. Ahearn deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a member of a civil affairs team supporting the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

This was Ahearn's second tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was born Nov. 3, 1963, in Florida and was raised in California. Ahearn graduated from Diablo Valley College, Pleasant Hill, Calif., in 1988 with an associate degree in liberal arts and later earned a bachelor's degree in history from Campbell University, Buies Creek, N.C. He entered the military service in 1989 and later completed the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga. In 1994, he returned to Fort Benning and graduated from the Officer Candidate School. Following OCS, Ahearn was assigned to the 27th Engineer Brigade here. Subsequently, he served tours at Fort Stewart, Ga., and Fort Irwin, Calif., as well as Korea and Kuwait. Ahearn first deployed to Iraq as an engineer officer in 2003. He also served his country in Saudi Arabia and Germany.

Ahearn's military education also includes the Engineer Officer Basic and Advanced courses at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., the Civil Affairs Officer Course and the Regional Studies Course at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School here.

His awards and decorations include Bronze Star for valor, Bronze Star, two Meritorious Service medals, five Army Commendation medals, two Army Achievement Medals, Korean Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, two National Defense Service medals, Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kingdom of Saudia Arabia), Presidential Unit Citation, Valorous Unit Award, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, and the Basic Parachutist Badge.

Ahearn is survived by his wife, Lina [sic] and their daughter, Khadijah Mariam both of Raeford, N.C. He is also survived by his mother, Connie Ahearn of Concord, Calif., and his father, James F Ahearn of Phoenix, Ariz.

Voice of America 28 July 2007

Arlington Cemetery burial detail

Army Maj. James M. Ahearn, 43, Concord; killed with another soldier by bomb in Iraq
In the final hours of his life July 5, Army Maj. James M. Ahearn was doing what he did best: looking out for the interests of others. From his quarters in Baghdad, he tried to assure family members in the U.S. that he was safe and upbeat. Then he headed across town to try to assure local Iraqis that eventually things could be upbeat and safe for them too, if everyone worked together. He was on his way to that neighborhood meeting when a homemade bomb blew up next to his truck. He was killed instantly, along with a sergeant from his 95th Civil Affairs Brigade.

Ahearn, 43, of Concord, Calif., was buried Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery. His younger brother, Kevin, delivered the eulogy, describing him as a hero in life as well as death. An 18-year veteran whose career included duty in the Persian Gulf War as an enlisted man assigned to a tank crew, Ahearn was nearing the end of his third tour of duty in the current Iraq conflict. And he seemed to understand the country like few Americans do. He learned to speak Arabic and moved comfortably among Iraqi villagers and officials. During Baghdad duty in 2003, he met and fell in love with an Iraqi woman. He brought her to the U.S. in 2005, and they married and had a baby girl.

On this tour, Ahearn was working to develop relationships with Iraqi civilians and improve relations among rival groups. There were signs that work was starting to pay off, he told family members. "Cautiously optimistic is a very good way of putting it," he wrote in early June. "The last 36 hours have been very encouraging for me: had a meeting with an Iraqi general, pitched my ideas for civil affairs projects in one of his neighborhoods. Had a meeting in the neighborhood with a bunch of local leaders who were insistent that they don't want handouts; they just need some assistance to get things going."

The neighborhood where he was killed had been car-bombed a few weeks earlier, leaving six dead and several dozen injured. The sectarian attack had been intended as a catalyst to divide residents, Ahearn explained. Instead, it had united them. "This neighborhood—Sunni, Shia, Christian and Kurd— came together. They cared for the injured, put up the homeless, built makeshift barriers around the neighborhood to prevent such a thing from happening again," he wrote in an e-mail to family members.

Ahearn had met his future wife, Lena, in Baghdad's Green Zone when he stopped by her family's home to check on their welfare. She had been working at the time as a military translator. "It was love at first sight, but we didn't want to say it," Lena Ahearn said. "Jimmy was the greatest gift I ever had." Ahearn impressed those who watched him give food to Iraqi families and things such as soccer balls to children. "He was taking care of the Green Zone where we were staying. He was very friendly, helping everybody. He saw his job as helping rebuild, not fighting," recalled Lena's sister, Mariam Ghadeer. When Lena agreed to marry him, he set out to convert to the Muslim faith so the ceremony could take place. Then he worked to bring her to the U.S.

His father, retired Phoenix-area FBI head James F. Ahearn, helped him snip through immigration red tape, eventually enlisting the assistance of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The couple settled in Raeford, N.C., near the Army's Ft. Bragg, where Ahearn's 96th Civil Affairs Battalion was based. His mother, Connie Ahearn, lives in Concord, Calif. Seventeen months ago, Ahearn's daughter, Kadi, was born. His redeployment to Iraq began in March, and he was due home in September. He planned to retire from the Army in 2009. Ahearn's greatest worry, initially, was that his daughter wouldn't remember him when he returned. But he also was concerned about the Iraqi children whom he encountered. Snapshots that he sent from Iraq nearly always depicted children, friends say. He encouraged them to ship over toys—but "no toy guns, please"—to be distributed to them. "If we can get through to the kids," he wrote, "then maybe Kadi can visit here as a tourist instead of as a lieutenant."

To the end, the American major worried more about the Iraqis' fate than his own. "There are a lot of good people here who really are trying to make a difference and need some help. There's no doubt in my mind that if we left, they'd all be dead," he wrote in an e-mail to his father. "If we were to get the hell out of here, some poor kid would be left doing the job—and we're already losing enough good kids. "I wish I could just sit all the Iraqi entities down in a room, pitch my plan to rid the place of Al Qaeda, and promise that the Americans will leave shortly thereafter—or at least take up positions out in the desert on the Iranian border, which the average Iraqi wouldn't mind at all. I'll figure out the whole Iran thing later. "I never realized saving the world was so damned hard."

Los Angeles Times 29 July 2007

An unlikely love story amid the casualties of war in Iraq
Petula Dvorak
For weeks, with the tumult of war-torn Baghdad swirling around them, they met on a bench every evening. They sat and talked, laughed and flirted. He touched her hand once. ''Oh, no,'' she gasped as she quickly pulled her tiny hand away from his big one. Her brother was nearby, chaperoning. But she was captivated by Major James Ahearn's startling blue eyes and his fair skin. She thinks of those eyes every day as she's chatting with customers at the beauty salon where she does hair. Lena Ahearn is 34 and lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her four-year-old daughter, Kadi (short for Khadijah). She is one of the more unlikely war widows gathering in Washington this weekend for a National Memorial Day Concert — an Iraqi woman still grieving three years after her American husband was killed by a roadside bomb while on a patrol in her home town, Baghdad. And while much of America will be celebrating Memorial Day weekend with barbecues or trips to the beach, Ahearn is going to finish her shift, sweep up the wet curls of hair on the floor at the salon and take her daughter to Arlington National Cemetery, where the love of her life is buried in Section 60.

The Ahearns met in Baghdad in 2003, where he was the patrol captain in charge of Lena's neighbourhood. When he visited her family's home, ''I was the only one in the house who spoke English, so my mum woke me up,'' Lena said. ''So I came out and I looked at him. And I was, like, 'Those blue eyes! Oh, man, he has beautiful white teeth! And he has the strong officer face.' He told me he finishes his duty at eight at night. And he came back. We sat on the bench and we talked until 11. He did that every night for a month.'' They fell in love during those many nights on the bench. Ahearn brought food and water to her family then talked for hours with Lena, who was 27 at the time and had a degree in psychology.

Ahearn, then 39, returned to the US, divorced his American wife and returned to Lena. He converted to Islam so he could marry her. They wed in Jordan and eventually moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Before settling down, they had a second wedding in Las Vegas that his family attended. Lena dyed her hair blonde and wore a white wedding dress. They were an unusual couple. It wasn't uncommon for soldiers to return to the US with English or German wives after World War II or Vietnamese wives after the Vietnam War. But in this conflict, the culture and the people seem very far apart. Except on that bench near Lena's house.

Then, in July 2007, the bomb hit Ahearn's car. And there she was, a Muslim woman with a daughter, grief-stricken and alone on an army post in America. Not long after Ahearn was buried at Arlington, Lena and her daughter moved to an apartment in Virginia not far from her husband's grave. She'd go online every few months to one of the memorial pages set up for Ahearn and write him a love note. She was grateful for her work at a hair salon, where she could chat with her customers during the day. But at night, she went home to Kadi, who looked at the pictures of her father and said ''Baba'', the Arabic word for daddy. Lena was aching. One of her husband's friends suggested she contact Taryn Davis, a war widow who founded the American Widow Project after realising how lonely she was in her grief. The project's website includes the blogs written by some of the widows of the nearly 5500 US service members who have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is an astounding portrait of the cost of war. There are hundreds of wedding photos, smiling couple shots and baby-home-from-the-hospital pictures taken before a roadside bomb ripped apart a young family's plans. On some blogs, women send chatty updates to their dead husbands about the kitchen tiles, their children's school work or the weird ping in the family car. On others, they go deep into their grief, the politics of war, the dark, dark wrongs of all of it.

Lena Ahearn tried that but ultimately found that ''I needed to talk to people who were also experiencing this,'' she said. So she reached out to other widows, who regularly get together for tea, lunches, spa dates, even skydiving. They are quintessential American women. All ponytails, jeans and ''y'alls.'' Lena worried they wouldn't accept her, that her accent, her religion, her dark eyes would remind them of the place where their husbands were killed. ''When I met the widows, I told them, 'If you guys don't like me, for whatever reason, I totally understand it.' '' They smothered her in hugs. No widows' tea for Lena. Right away, she went on a skydiving trip. Did she jump? ''Oh, hell yeah, I did,'' she replied. ''Jimmy was airborne so I really wanted to know what it felt like, what he did. That night I did it, I had an amazing dream, like he came to me and he was still alive.''

Before visiting his grave, Lena plans to meet Davis and the widows on Sunday for the 8pm Memorial Day concert, which will honour the fallen and their families. The widows are beginning to arrive now. Many of them will also visit Arlington Cemetery. These women will never be counted among the casualties of war. But that's exactly what they are.

The Washington Post 30 May 2010

Guestbook for James Michael Ahearn

See also:
Christian Science Monitor, 17 April 2003
USA Today, 1 July 2003


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