Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2018

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Marine 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey

After Caroline Cathey's son told her he was heading to Iraq, she couldn't shake a recurring vision. When she thought of her son, she saw three men dressed in green coming to the door of her Reno home.

In August 2005, a month after her son arrived for duty in Iraq, Cathey returned from errands on a Sunday morning. A military car was parked across the street.

"I knew why they were there."

Marine 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey, 24, died Aug. 21, 2005. He and a corporal had gone ahead of a platoon to scout near Al Karmah, Iraq. A roadside bomb exploded.

The Marines from the military car stayed with Cathey into the night.

In her home today, a bookshelf displays Little League photos, a photo of James in a martial arts outfit and photos of hunting trips with his father, Jeffrey.

He wanted to be a Marine since the fourth grade, said Caroline Cathey, an accountant. "How can you tell your son, 'No'?"

James enlisted in February 1998, at age 17. He had finished classes at Reno High School two months early so that he could go to boot camp. He missed graduation ceremonies because he had entered basic training.

Then he continued his education at the University of Colorado in Boulder, earning two degrees, in history and anthropology.

While at the university, he met his wife, Katherine, of Brighton, Colo.

In 2002 James received his officer's commission and had been deployed to East Timor and twice to Okinawa before heading to Iraq.

As a leader, his men looked up to him, Caroline Cathey said. "First, James wanted to become a brigadier general in the Marine Corps," she said. "His fellow Marines, they all knew Jim was going to be their commandant."

He had been named Marine of the Year in the division and twice was on the Super Squad for his battalion.

"He always told me, 'Don't worry,' " she said. " 'If we don't fight it over there, we'll be fighting it over here.' "

She agrees. "They need to be over there. They need to get the job done. They want to destroy us. They'll do it if we let them. Those people over there are nuts."

After the war, James wanted to retire from the military and become a history professor.

Katherine Cathey learned she was pregnant with a son while her husband was in Iraq. The night before his body was buried, she refused to leave the casket. The Marines tucked her into a makeshift bed below the U.S. flag draped across the coffin.

James is buried in the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley.

While Caroline Cathey still feels the void of her son's death, she most fears that her son will be forgotten.

In May a Medal of Honor Scholarship in his name will be given at the Reno High School graduation ceremony for the first time.

Cathey will miss that ceremony, she said. Her daughter and James' sister, Joyce Cathey, a criminal justice major at the University of Illinois in Chicago, will be graduating on May 13.

Joyce had her brother's image tattooed on the back of her neck after she learned of his death.

"Then we're going to take a cross-country road trip together," Caroline Cathey said.

"We've waited five years to do this."