A memorial service will be held Monday for Thomas Cahill, a retired Nellis Air Force Base captain who received the Silver Star Medal, the nation’s third-highest valor award, for piloting a daring helicopter rescue of U.S. troops during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.
Cahill, 47, of Las Vegas, died March 18, returning on a cruise ship from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to Los Angeles, his wife, Gina Nakahara-Cahill said.
She said his cause of death is still being determined. She said she doesn’t know if it is related to his bout with post-traumatic stress disorder. He had completed a 12-week Veterans Affairs course on PTSD in January.
“If this was PTSD-related, people need to know that these highly decorated soldiers coming back are suffering,” Nakahara-Cahill said Friday.
As a first lieutenant with the 66th Rescue Squadron, Cahill flew a Pave Hawk helicopter through enemy fire low over eastern Afghanistan’s snow-capped mountains on March 3, 2002, to pick up a critically wounded man. The rescue occurred a few miles from what later became the Roberts Ridge battle site, named after a tragic attempt the next day to rescue Navy SEAL Neil Roberts.
His “uncanny skills,” his citation read, for keeping the Pave Hawk airborne in thin air at low rotor speed with mortar rounds whizzing by resulted in saving three men. Cahill also received the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism.
Cahill spoke humbly about his efforts after the Silver Star Medal had been clipped to his jacket during an awards ceremony at Nellis in 2003.
“As dark as it was, impacting the terrain was my first enemy,” he said. “I would say it was probably luck.”
Thomas Cahill Jr. was born March 4, 1969, in Millington, Tennessee. He was raised in Hawaii where he graduated from Farrington High School in Kalihi, Oahu, Hawaii, in 1987.
He joined the Army that same year. Then, in 2000, he transferred to the Air Force. He retired in 2009.
In 2013 he married Gina Nakahara, whom he had known since middle school.
“I went into the Coast Guard and he went into the Army with my brother on the buddy system,” she said.
A funeral service is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. Monday at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.
He is survived by his wife, Gina Nakahara-Cahill; mother, Susan Peek; children Ryan Cahill, Scott Cahill, Lauren Ranney and Cheyane Cahill; brothers John and Michael Wade; sister Holly Sinde; and grandson, Kashton Cahill.