July 26th, 2010
03:26 PM ET

Death of a man named 'Popeye'

Bill Harris, deputy director of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, speaks at a ceremony honoring "Popeye" at Camp Nathan Smith. A large number of both coalition personnel and local residents attended.

We’d been at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City for a matter of hours when a Canadian Public Affairs Officer offered up a story.

Captain Cynthia Larue was not the type of PAO to try to sell you a puff piece to boost the “good news quota,” but rather someone who knew a good tale when she saw one.

And this, to be sure, was one of those.

The base is on the site of a former cannery, opened in the early 1970s and in its heyday producing thousands of cans of local produce.

When the Taliban arrived in Kandahar in the early 90s, the cannery became for a while a prison, a grim holding area for hundreds of inmates, crammed into a storage area.

Over the months, those inmates drew pictures on the walls with charcoal from the fires they lit to stay warm, or heat their meager rations. They were — and are — haunting images offering a glimpse into their ordeal, and their past.

There are sketches of Soviet helicopters and MiG fighter jets alongside images of farm equipment, peacocks and happier days.

Some had scrawled their names, others their emotions — “death is a friend,” one wrote. Another, defiant, inmate showed his incarceration wouldn’t get him down. “Wherever I am, I am not a poor man” was the message he left for those who came after him. (Here is the original post from earlier this year)

Popeye (Photo courtesy KPRT staff)

Our guide that day was a 60-something local who, like many locals, looked more like 75 after a tough, working man’s life.

His real name was Faida Mohammed, but, to the troops at CSN, he was “Popeye” (because of his work ethic, we were told) or simply “Hajji” (an honorific reserved for someone who has completed the Hajj, or, often, for an elder deserving of respect).

Popeye had seen the birth of the cannery, worked there through its glory years, witnessed the incarceration of men there by the Taliban, and, now, was still there, in its latest incarnation as a military base.

He watched governments and armies come and go, but never felt beholden to any of them.

“I’ve never felt I work for a government,” he told me. “I’m working for my country, and my family. I care nothing for the politics.”

Still, the reality in a place like Afghanistan is that working on a military base is risky. So why do it? “It’s my home. I’ve been here in this place my whole life,” he told me. “I need to feed my children, and there is work to do here. Why not?”

His role was simple: to keep the generators running, move water supplies around and other necessary but unglamorous tasks.

He performed these with his trademark grin and good spirits, a man loved and respected by all who he met.

And, after our time with him, by us as well. Many on the base would stop to try to chat with Popeye (he spoke no English) and I met one officer who would regularly take a military interpreter along so she could enjoy a "catch up conversation" with him. Another sketched his weathered, character-laden face, a visage where every line told a chapter.

He had but one request — that we hide his face in our report. “Even now, I still fear the Taliban,” he said. “I’m worried they will punish me if they know I’m still here.”

It’s a familiar fear of those who have anything to do with international forces in Afghanistan, or Iraq for that matter, and, of course, we hid his identity.

A few days ago Popeye’s fears were realized.

Returning home after another hard day of work, he was murdered — shot multiple times in the head as he made his way home to his wife and four children. His body was found by one of his sons, alarmed when the family patriarch and chief provider didn’t make it home that evening.

Of course, at the moment, no one knows for sure who did it. But chances are Popeye died because of where he worked — the same place he’d worked for 40 years.

They held a memorial service for Popeye at Camp Nathan Smith last week. The turn out of locals and soldiers was huge.

An Afghan translator on the base, who understandably didn’t want to be identified, said: “We have lost a true friend, and a respected elder of the community. He was the grandfather of this place, working hard as always, hoping to see Afghanistan become beautiful again.”

Popeye told me one day that his secret dream was that, once the soldiers had again gone home, there would be investors who would come and reopen the factory he loved so much, and once more it could churn out cans of local produce.

I’ve lost several friends, numerous colleagues and many, many acquaintances in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet, here was a man who didn’t die in a firefight, or an ambush on a highway, or while on a military convoy or even as the “collateral damage” of an errant missile.

He was a defenseless old man who caused no harm to anyone, brought joy to many, and wanted no part of the politics of war. His only mission: To support his family in a troubled time.

In a land soaked with the blood of senseless deaths, the murder of Popeye was about as pointless as they come.

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. DF

    Wonder how many wanna be terrorist jiust learned from CNN how to track a package – did it cross anyones mind at CNN that maybe the hat from Pakistan show was DANGEROUS??????? Yes you too can track a package from your cave!! come on guys!!

    November 8, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. planet
    August 14, 2010 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. DP

    Excuse the typo NOT PRC, PRT.

    August 9, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DP

    When I said goodbye to Popeye in OCT 2004, he gave me a big hug. I told him to be careful and told him how wonderful it had been working with him at the Kandahar PRC (so called prior to US turning over to Canada). He was such a nice man who prided himself in keeping the place running well. His special pride was tending to his garden. He used to call me over and though I did not speak his language, nor he mine, he would always walk me through his patch of veggies and point out the new buds or little plants. He would bend down and pick a ripe pepper, brush it off on his long, gray gown, then hand it over to me with the biggest smile! He was such a kind, generous man and it is with great sorrow that I read this story. Rest in peace, my gentle friend.

    August 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. camel skinner

    -afghanisatan should deeply morn the loss of all tribal elders – if not of position -then of age and wisdom -this guy was an irreplaceable wise old man -if the idiots that killed this man keep killing wise elders then they will reep ingnorance and stupidity -this man – knew how to run the entire factory -he probably was bi-lingiual in other languages -he was skilled in repairs and -knew former customers that could re invest some day -he knew everyone in town -freind or enemy – he could be used as a go -between – but now because of some "less than human criminal " he is no longer of use to anyone –may ignorance plague the killers for lack of wisdom -since the do not honnor there wise elders -its sad to here it when criminals have to victimise old people – it just shows how worthlesshumans,no animals like this can be i d say they were more worthless than butt hair but ,butt hair actually has a use i think .

    July 30, 2010 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. Rod

    Murdered by people who say God is who they fight for when in fact they are nothing but murderers in Allah's name plain and simple.

    July 29, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ODA155

    FIRE FOR EFFECT!

    July 29, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. GHoff

    A very touching tribute to someone who definitely deserved better from the sound of it. Puts me in mind of many people I used to work with in Juarez, Mexico who also deserve much better than the drug wars and kidnappings they're living through. I send a small prayer for them all.

    July 29, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. cdn tf 3-09

    It's sad a story on a wonderful man gets turned into a poltical argument. I knew popeye and worked with him everyday in CNS. Often helping him to unload water boxes or refill generators. He always had a smile and greeted us warmly. He was up a dawn and didn't finish work until the sun had set. A good man who's life was senselessly taken. R.I.P Popeye

    July 29, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. one shot

    Don't forget elevation.

    July 29, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. Frederic Jean

    Why do you have to make this about religion? It is not. Popeye was as muslim as you are. He was also a great human being and asked only to live in peace, what did he ever do to you Yakib? May peace and freedom be with him where he now lives.

    July 29, 2010 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. Frederic Jean

    How sad! Popeye caught everybody's attention when you met him. Yet a silent man, you couldn't help but smile and greet him everytime you met him. He returned the favor. I've never seen him upset, angry or looking tired.
    I hope Popeye's death leave a mark, and we can use it to see why we need to be in Afghanistan: assist the Afghans to get their life back.

    July 29, 2010 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  13. Marianne

    From one more person who had the honour of meeting and working with Popeye, thank you for this article. I think that most of us who at some point met Popeye were saddened with the news of his murder. The man had a heart of gold and a smile for everyone and worked extremely hard.
    To those that have opinions formed from sitting on your safe couches at home, a luxury afforded by other peoples blood – you should try getting your facts straight before running off your mouths.

    July 28, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Semper

    All of you have the freedom to voice your opinion, however, the gentleman wished to work, hurt nobody, feed his family, and return to better times. I believe this is what we all want.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. chaser

    No american in support – haha for sure buddy, why hasn't anyone thought about that before? No military = no wars, genius!

    July 28, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  16. No american in support

    All military are killers, in the military you are fair game to be killed just as you have signed up to be a killer, no military, no wars!

    July 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • OEF Vet

      So how does it feel to know that someone's kid in the heart of America
      Has blood on their hands, fighting to defend your rights
      So you can maintain the lifestyle that insults his family's existance?
      Well, where I'm from we have a special salute we wave high in the air
      Towards all those pompous asses who spend their days pointing fingers.
      -A7X

      August 3, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  17. hajji is a slur not an honorific

    yes but it misses the point.

    when a soldier uses the word "hajji" its not out of deep respect. the article simply defining the word's arabic-language meaning (im not even sure if its used in pashto or urdu) glosses over the word's english-language meaning, which is little different from any other ethnic slur.

    iif deliberate it's contemptible, if accidental it's moronic.

    July 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • OEF Vet

      How the hell do you know what an American soldier is thinking when they use that term? Sure, there are some that will use the term as a means to degrade, but the vast majority of American servicemen see no point in using racial slurs. It only enrages the local populace and undoes all the work that we've done to integrate with area locals. Servicemen are taught to respect locals, not harass them and use racial slurs. And just as a side note, thanks for using an article meant to honor the memory of a good man to argue. You're ignorance is overwhelming.

      August 3, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  18. hajji is a slur not an honorific

    lots of slurs have their origins in otherwise ordinary words. take the spanish word for "black" for instance.

    reporting on it as though "hajji" is a perfectly acceptable term of respect when used by american soldiers towards civilians in our theaters of war without so much as mentioning the fact that it's actually used by Our Troops as a racial slur is an absurd whitewash

    July 28, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  19. hajji is a slur not an honorific

    [[[His real name was Faida Mohammed, but, to the troops at CSN, he was “Popeye” (because of his work ethic, we were told) or simply “Hajji” (an honorific reserved for someone who has completed the Hajj, or, often, for an elder deserving of respect).]]]

    hahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahhahahaha nice journalism idiot.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      To "hajji is a slur not an honorific" (quite a handle there).
      "Hajji" is a slur when used by the ignorant as a catch-all term for, well, just about anyone in our theaters of war who doesn't look like us. Its correct use is as described in the article. Nice post, idiot.

      July 28, 2010 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
      • hajji is a slur not an honorific

        "look, there's hajjis, then there's HAJJIS". sure maybe 99% of the time its an ignorant catch all but THIS TIME surely it was out of respect. its a slur, chief. thanks for posting now go reexamine your life

        July 28, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      It's a slur only when used by the ignorant like yourself. There are people in and out of americas military who care about people in general and take the time to use words correctly. Apparently you are not one of them. You represent the hate and ignorance that we are fighting against. The terrorist label us all like yourself and use your ignorant comments as reasons for their followers to attack us. Thanks alot, Mr. Helper.

      July 28, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  20. Robrob

    @Dragonwind – yes by all means, let's kill all those people just like Popeye – the person you are supposedly upset about having been killed in the first place.

    July 28, 2010 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
  21. SOF

    Rest in Peace.

    July 28, 2010 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  22. Dragonwind

    Afghanistan solution. Nuke the entire country, kill everything living in it, and then do the same with the entire Middle east from Israel through Iran. Problem solved.

    July 27, 2010 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Jango Davis

    B.S. He was killed by his own people because his own people didn't have the ethics to turn over bin Laden after 9.11. You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. T

    July 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  24. jim armstrong

    It's, overall still a hard cruel world, full of cowards. We've been around as a species for what, 2 million years since our distant ancestors scrambled around on our back legs? And crap like the murder of that gentle man happens. I take pride that he obviously didn't hate anyone or any cause, just lived his life for his family. We sure haven't come too far. By now, we as humans, should have gotten past all that, Shame on those who shot him, and shame on all of us for being the way we are. The Gunga Din poem was appropriate for the man and the region. If we last on this planet for another 1,000 years (seems it may be doubtful anymore) maybe, just maybe, we will not do these things to each other. I am so glad i am closer to my own end than i am to my beginning. I won't see how things will get worse.

    July 27, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  25. SnafuBob

    The best definition of a politician I've ever heard can be summed up by the following quote, any fan will surely recognize where it came from:

    "Listen, I'm a politician which means I'm a cheat and a liar, and when I'm not kissing babies I'm stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open."

    That goes for both sides of the coin here in the US and dare I say anywhere else for that matter. I agree with you Former Marine to a great extent, still yet his comments infuriated me due mostly to his ignorance. Politics is politics; only those who served know the means to their end and therefore know truly what is going on.

    Semper Fi

    July 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Salvador

    This man demonstrates what many people should focus on. Taking care of the family and doing the best out of any situation. God bless him and the poor.

    July 27, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Ihatedumas

    Yacobi, you need to get off the opium, and speak like a smart 4 year old. Right now, you sound deluded, and kinda brain washed.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  28. rgw

    like that-windage.....

    July 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  29. US Citizen

    From what I read, he seemed like a good and noble man. Sadly the world has lost yet another good soul. May he rest in peace.

    July 27, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Taimur

    Please make dua of Maghfiraat for this poor soul. Please recite Surah Fatiah once followed by Surah Ikhlaas three times.

    TA

    July 27, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  31. BNthere1

    After being in Afghanistan for six months, I met many kind people, like 'Popeye'. And in my experiences, the people are quite resilient and want positive change. Ignorance, primarily due to lack of education is a huge barrier to that change. And regardless of how locals die, some dirtbag will always try to spin it against the US to reinforce negative stereotypes.
    You'd be surprised at how hard the military works to integrate with the local culture and customs to build partnerships that foster good will and promote peace. For all those that condemn, I'd hazard a guess that they have never been to Afghanistan and seen what it is like. Many speak out of ignorance or simply out of animosity for a situation they have no first-hand knowledge of.

    July 27, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  32. USAF

    Why dont you go join him in Afghanistan daniel

    July 27, 2010 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  33. nwalvek

    Do you ever have anything nice to say?

    July 27, 2010 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  34. LLBD

    There's no sense in engaging Jakobi – he is obviously a sympathizer of the Taliban. The actual Afghan government asked the United States to come to help them – though that has been several years now. I don't feel we should be there either, its a desert wasteland and our young people shouldn't have to deal with the sand fleas of that place. If the people of Aghanistan want to get rid of the Taliban, they should find the cohones to do so themselves. The Arab nations have been fighting each other for so long, I personally don't think they remember why. We could just build a parameter around them, and let them destroy themselves from within. Then we wouldn't have to worry about them anymore.

    July 27, 2010 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  35. Robrob

    Excuse me? He was employed by the US. He was murdered by the Taliban. So what's your point?

    July 27, 2010 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Canadian Water boy

      He was employed by the Canadians actually.

      July 27, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Bob Nob

    This gentle man who went through so much to support his family is the story of daily sacrifice. Now that he is has
    past on who is stepping in to help feed his family? What can we do to help...? Whether one's an Afgan, American, Asian or European, the same basic needs of humanity still exist...! Got to eat... Must have water... And better be able to breathe air...! Is there anything that is being done to help support his family, and others as well...? Are there jobs that could be offered...? Or is life there filled with so much fear that to move one way or the other would only bring more pain..? No one wins in war...! I look forward to the day when there will be no more war...! When Peace everywhere will exist through the years. This is my HOPE...!

    July 27, 2010 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Miss Me

      And my prayer.

      July 29, 2010 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  37. 1sad1

    E carried me away
    To where a dooli lay,
    An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.
    ‘E put me safe inside,
    An’ just before ‘e died:
    “I ‘ope you liked your drink,” sez Gunga Din.
    So I’ll meet ‘im later on
    In the place where ‘e is gone—
    Where it’s always double drill and no canteen;
    ‘E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
    Givin’ drink to pore damned souls,
    An’ I’ll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!

    Din! Din! Din!
    You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
    Tho’ I’ve belted you an’ flayed you,
    By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
    You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

    July 27, 2010 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
    • jay

      I was hoping someone would post this. Well played.

      July 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  38. Cat C

    From someone else who worked with him, thank you for this story. He was remarkably kind and would give anyone walking with something heavy a ride – something greatly appreciated in 120 degree heat. A very decent man who deserved much better.

    July 27, 2010 at 5:15 am | Report abuse |
  39. Hugo L.

    You will destroy us all thinking like you do, nobody will win.

    July 27, 2010 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Voice of Reason

      Now with that said any one up for a round of Tea? To cool off?

      July 27, 2010 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  40. Todd E.

    Hajji, when used by American troops, is no honorific. It is more in line with calling an Arab a raghead. When I was at South Camp in the Sinai, we called the local Egyptians "gypo" or "hajji" and never meant it with any respect. I'm much older and wiser now.

    July 26, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      What you said would normally be true, but according to the story, the people talked about had alot of respect and found memories of this man. And in muslim culture hajji is used as a term of respect. The people interviewed seemed to have respect for him and where I come from you don't insult people you respect.

      July 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  41. john in Cal

    while it may be true that our being there has brought only harm or death to many. Most of those deaths have not been at our hands but at the hands of your own called the taliban. They were doing so long before we got there. If the Afganies want us to leave all they have to do is get rid of the taliban and we won't have a reason to stay. Easy eh?

    July 26, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • rgw

      wait--you moved....windage...

      July 27, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      rgw it sounds like you need to work on your kentucky windage.

      July 28, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  42. american1

    god bless america there werent paved roads or real schools ever in afganastan before the americans arrived they only taught he koran for 8 hra a day every day.we could and probably should make a parking lot out of the place.the taliban came from there and so did bin laden.DEATH TO THEM ALL........

    July 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      Yacobi, you are so right. The taliban are from pakistan. And they are funded by a saudi foriegner. You are so right that THOSE foreigners need to leave afganistan NOW!

      July 27, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  43. Gammons

    We shouldnt even try to help these poor third world countries. If they dont want our help than let them be ignorant dirt farmers for the rest of their lives. Have fun living in the stone age.

    July 26, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  44. Cosantoir

    "Froeigners"?

    Certainly. Foreigners like bin Ladin and the Arabs and Pakistanis of the Taliban.

    July 26, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  45. Dennis Pence

    Shows just how cowardly terrorists can be. They don't have the guts to fight a conventional war and don't have the brains to understand how to coexist. They will no doubt receive their reward in the afterlife – and surprise – it won't be whiskey and virgins.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grimlock

      You didn't answer the question.

      How do you know it was an American (or, "a foreigner), when it's just as likely (heck, more likely) to be Taliban?

      July 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • rgw

      windage.....

      July 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • mikelinpa

      Of course they will get virgins when they die. Terrorists die in multiples of 73. That is the only way any of those losers will be with 72 virgins in the afterlife.

      July 27, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  46. Bubba

    That's what happens to nice guys. Someone makes an example of them, and soon there's nothing left but people like us.

    July 26, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • rgw

      windage....

      July 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • camel skinner

      us as in u.s. bubba --amen -nuff said lets go burn a cross and hang some folks -then after go have a beer and watch the bugs fry on the "zapper " on the porch -- also that aint yer old lady doin a belly dance bringin us are beers -thats fat commin at ya :}

      July 30, 2010 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
  47. Dan Timon

    From one who knew him, thank-you for a great piece.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  48. Robrob

    Did you even bother to read what Todd E. said before posting your nonsense?

    July 27, 2010 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |