Day after day when I was young my brother’s very best friend was over at our house all the time. He was funny. He was genuine. He was different than any teenage boy I’ve met to this day (and I’m almost out of my “teens”) in the fact that he not only loved his friends, he let them know. A lot. He let everyone know, a lot. He was a mischevious and played countless pranks on my mom, which I always enjoyed participating in. I thought he hung the moon.
My brothers senior year, this friend joined the Marines. I knew what it was, or so I thought. He was going to go away and wear red, white, and blue and make sure America could still be free, right? Over the next 2 years we went to the going away and welcome home parties, wrote him letters back when he sent them, and talked every month or so.
On February 21st, Lance Corporal Matt Hanson was killed in action in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, in what the Associated press calls a major offensive against the taliban.
Enemy fire took my brothers very best friend, my moms second son, and my hero. The whole town was American flags, every bank sign had a tribute, it was something out of a movie. An awful, sad movie. And the sweet, charismatic boy I’d come to know has my big brother was the star of the show.
Even then I understood what the sacrifice was. The day of his funeral every news channel around has picked up the story. A smiling newscaster asked my mom if she could ask me on air about the sign I was holding. In big, sparkly, red white and blue letters it said (as neatly as a 11 year old could write) MATT YOU’RE MY HERO.
Flash forward a couple minutes and a news camera is in my face. “Why is Matt your hero? She asked. I replied in the simplest, most honest way I could. “Matt loved being a United States Marine, and he loved us so much he gave his life fighting so we can keep our freedoms”
As I’ve gotten older, Matt has never left my heart. I’ve found more and more things out, some I wasn’t ready to know before. I’ve learned where the fatal shot met his 20 year old skin. I’ve learned of his heroic actions the days before his death. I’ve learned that Camp Hanson, once the largest US position in Marjah, was named in his honor. I’ve done everything I can to make sure his name isn’t forgotten in our community. This past Veterans Day I talked at the High School and told his story, one that many of those kids were too young to remember. Here I am with his sweet mama.
This Memorial Day, I urge you to read the stories of fallen men or women, of any branch. These selfless heroes are the reason we have everything. I ask you to pray for the families, the friends, the spouses. I ask you to pray for every boot on the ground to this day, and all of Matt’s friends who made it back home.