On Nov. 14, just a month before the final US troops left Iraq, a 23-year-old soldier lost his life to an improvised explosive device. David Emanuel Hickman was the last American to be killed in a war that cost some 4,500 Americans their lives, the AP reports. With the US mission over, his family and friends are remembering him as a jokester with the nickname "Zeus" (because, he playfully said, his physique was so impressive the gods would be envious); as an outside linebacker who was the linchpin of a defense so complicated his high school had to scrap it after he graduated because no other teen could figure it out; as someone with a goal of one day joining the Special Forces, and who, in the words of a friend, "didn’t sign up to get his life on track. He wanted to be a physically and mentally elite soldier."
What his family and friends aren't dwelling on are questions about the meaning of the war. "There aren't enough facts available for me to have a defined opinion about things. I'm just sad, and pray that my best friend didn't lay down his life for nothing," adds the friend. At 23, Hickman was among many young people killed: The average age was 26, and almost 1,300 of the fallen were 22 or younger. "I've trained a lot of kids. They go to college and you kind of lose track of them and forget them," says his taekwondo teacher (Hickman was a black belt). "He was never like that. That smile and that laugh immediately come to mind." (Read more Iraq war stories.)