Saturday, February 24, 2007

Matthew Apuan remembered

LAS CRUCES — Wave upon wave, grief and pride crashed on the Apuan family Tuesday as they braced for the eventual return of their son's remains.

"I lost a friend, not just a son," Charles Apuan said of his son, 27-year-old Sgt. Matthew S. Apuan.

Apuan fell to enemy fire Sunday in Baghdad. He is the sixth Doña Ana County soldier to die in the Iraq desert since 2003. The ebb and flow of emotion held both tears and laughter as the family began to gather, his father said.

"It just comes in waves," he said. "It has since Sunday."

That day, about 10 p.m. an Army major and a chaplain from Fort Hood, Texas, walked up the sidewalk on Hyacinth Street in west Las Cruces, across the neatly trimmed lawn and knocked on the door, bearing the worst of all possible news, Apuan said.

"I knew what it was, what the news was, why they were here," he said. "I just knew."

Late Tuesday, the Department of Defense confirmed what the family already knew. A news release reported Apuan's death "due to wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with the enemy using small arms fire while on combat patrol."
Funeral services are pending.

Apuan was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Calvary Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Calvary Division at Fort Hood. But the list of numbers, the honors the young soldier accumulated, the devotion to country and cause, don't begin to encapsulate the man, his father said.

The last time he spoke to his son, about three weeks ago, Sgt. Apuan had told his father he wanted to finish his tour of duty in the spring of 2008, then come home.

"He always wanted to help his family," his father said. "He was there for us. He had a lot of love. He was my hero."

Apuan was a graduate of Mayfield High School. He was a race-car fan. He was a hard-driving high school trackster and a fun-loving trickster. He was a third-generation American serviceman.

From his earliest years, as a child of a military family that moved from base to base, he built permanence in his playtime.

"He loved playing with Legos," his father said. "He would build houses, planes, cars."

As the younger Apuan grew to manhood, his uncanny ability to learn anything put before him drew him and his father closer. They shared a growing love of fine wines, a fondness for the horses, and a devotion to family.

Now that family waits in their Las Cruces home, their lives on hold until they are notified when they can bury their son. Memorials are in the works. Services will be held with full military honors. But no one yet knows exactly when those respects may finally be paid.

Meanwhile, memories flow as freely as tears, and recollections linger — laced with laughter — as generations of the Apuan family converge on this desert city, waiting to mourn a son killed in a desert far away.

Despite the distance of miles and time, thoughts of a bright-eyed, sharp witted and sly prankster fill their hearts, even as their home echoes with an abrupt emptiness.

"I think it's hardest on his sister and my dad, his grandfather," the father of the slain soldier said in the family home, tucked into a cul-de-sac along a riverside road near the city's Rio Grande bosque.

Grandpa, Charles Joseph Apuan, a Vietnam veteran, planned to travel into town Tuesday night to join the family as they hold vigil until Matthew is brought home for burial. No official memorials are in place, no plans can be made until the senior Apuan's oldest grandchild makes his final flight home.

Dad, another retired military man, who came to New Mexico for a tour of duty at White Sands Missile Range and stayed because the Land of Enchantment wove a spell on him and his family, slowly leafed through a stack of photos.

His scarred hands gently caressed the faded photographs, his weary eyes belied his grief as they wrinkled in welcome laughter, remembering his fallen son's successes.

His stepmother, Martha Apuan, recalls a younger boy with a strong, yet gentle soul.

"He's quiet," she said. "But he knows what he wants, even as a little kid."

Denise Ashby, a Mayfield assistant principal, also recalls a solid youngster who was devoted to his studies and his service in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.

"He was always reliable, he was always a good student," she said.

While no plans have been finalized, some Mayfield students were inquiring Tuesday about a possible memorial service. Arrangements are pending with Graham's Mortuary of Las Cruces.

Apuan's sister, Aimee Apuan, graduated from Mayfield last year and is now a student at New Mexico State University.

His mother, Sandra Apuan, is a former Mayfield teacher.

The waves of alternating grief and pride will continue to crash on the family. Even as the tides of time and tragedy take their toll, one fact remains.

Their lives have been scarred, their future eroded.

"It's always going to be a hole," the soldier's father said. "His mother said it gets smaller with time. But it will always be there."

From the Sun News

Related Link:
Matthew Apuan reported killed in Iraq