David Hickman was a star football player in McLeansville, North Carolina. He was a quiet man with a larger-than-life presence. He also holds the distinction of being the last soldier to die before the official announcement of the end of the Iraq war. That fact has made him a part of history, CNN affiliate WGHP reports.
Hickman, an Army specialist, was remembered Thursday by friends as the U.S. marked the official end of the war.
President Obama commemorated the milestone with an appearance at Fort Bragg, where Hickman was stationed before being deployed in September.
"As your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree - welcome home. Welcome home,â€ť he told cheering troops.
The coincidence did not go unnoticed by Hickmanâ€™s friends, who spoke to WGHP.
"That is so like David. He wasn't going to go out quietly. He's going to go down with a place in history," said his friend Logan Trainum. "He wasn't the loudest one in the room, but he was the most noticed one in the room. He just had that presence about him."
Even in death, Hickman was making his presence known, his friends said.
"When it's in the history books, it's like we know what happened at the end of that war. And that was our friend, because he was a hero. Simple as that,"Â friend Lyndsee Mabe told WGHP.
The conflict, which began in March 2003, took the lives of nearly 4,500 U.S. service members.
Earlier this month, talking to the Los Angeles Times, Trainum said Hickman told him troops were cool to Obamaâ€™s announcement in October that American troops would leave Iraq by Christmas.
"Today I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays," Obama said on October 21.
"They felt like people were going to make one last try to get them before they left," Trainum was quoted in the Times as saying.
Hickmanâ€™s mother, Veronica Hickman, told the Times that she had a message for Obama if she had the chance to meet him: "I'd tell him: 'You shouldn't have broadcast that everybody would be out by the end of the year. It made them targets. You should have slyly got them out.' "
â€śHearing Davidâ€™s voiceâ€ť on the phone in November brought a thrill, she told the Times. He was excited about coming home for Christmas.
The next day, November 14, she got the dreaded knock on the door. The military had come to inform her that her son had been killed that morning by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.