One mother and father honor their only child who was killed in Afghanistan
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
He was funny, had a sense of humor, loved joking around with people, helping people and was musically-inclined.
Army National Guard Specialist George Cauley was just 24 years old when he was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 — and he was just one of 3,589 veterans who were honored during the Wreaths for the Fallen (wreathsforthefallen.org) ceremony at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls.
George was the only child of Richard and Gloria Cauley and grew up in Walker. The Cauleys were on hand Dec. 14 to honor their son, although they make the trip from Brainerd to the cemetery every weekend, no matter the weather.
The Cauleys moved to Brainerd from Walker in January 2010, just months after their son’s death, so they could be closer to him.
George, the Cauley’s only child, enlisted when he was 17 and a junior in high school. He completed basic training at Fort Knox the summer before his senior year, came back to finish high school and then went on to advanced individual training (AIT).
Richard said ever since the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York Sept. 11, 2001, his son wanted to enlist and make the military his career.
Serving with the transportation company of the 114th out of Duluth, George was driving when supplies were being transported to a British base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. In tight formation when traveling a narrow stretch of road, George’s truck ran over a pressure point and he was blown out of the truck. The sergeant with him was injured but survived and received a Purple Heart.
“George received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and about 10 other commendations,” said Richard. “He was highly-decorated.”
Before deploying, George and his parents discussed where he would be buried should the unthinkable happen.
“We had to,” said Richard.
George wanted to be buried at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery, near his beloved Camp Ripley.
“Camp Ripley was like a second home to him,” said Richard, since the young soldier did much of his training at Camp Ripley.
The Cauleys have been to the other Wreaths for the Fallen programs. “It’s sad, of course,” said Richard. “But we go there to honor our son and everybody else.”
He said, “It’s something to watch. If you sit back and you watch it go from ‘nothing’ to ‘nothing but wreaths’ everywhere, it’s amazing. The thing that really strikes us is that so many people volunteer to do it. Fallen soldiers are never forgotten.”
Richard said Minnesotans show the greatest respect for the military.
“I don’t know how it is in other states, but I remember when we were taking George down from Walker to Camp Ripley (the cemetery), our families were with us; they had never seen anything like that as far as the Patriot Guard and the people lined down the street.”
George left his mark on the people he served with in Afghanistan.
“At Camp Leatherneck down in Helmand Province somebody came up with the idea to build a building for soldiers to get some relaxation in their downtime,” said Richard. The USO and others came together to get the facility built, complete with a pool table, Internet connection and air conditioning.
When it came time to dedicate it, it was named “Cauley’s Corner.”
“When they dedicated it in May 2010, that same day, they did a 4.23 mile memorial run for George,” said Richard.
It made the Cauleys proud that their son had touched so many people.
“From what we hear, quite a few people were touched by George; a lot of people looked up to him, even some of his sergeants and especially his captain,” Richard said.
The Cauleys said they are so appreciative of the volunteers and the people who took care of the ceremony.
The Cauleys have met many of the soldiers that served with their son. “We stay in contact with most of his old squad,” said Richard.
“The last couple of years, we have been getting invitations to go to a Twins game during military appreciation days and we usually take about 10 of the soldiers with us,” he said.
In November, they took four members of the unit to a Timberwolves game where they were honoring “Gold Star” families.
A Gold Star family is one who has lost a family member in an overseas conflict.
“It’s a group nobody wants to join,” said Richard.
This time of the year is tough.
“We’re doing all right; we still have our days, especially this time of year,” said Richard. “Christmas, Thanksgiving, his birthday (March 13) — he’s always here.”
For more information about the program through which the wreaths are laid on veterans’ headstones, visit wreathsforthefallen.org.