Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Matthew Zeimer remembered

Before he was killed fighting in Iraq earlier this month, Matthew Zeimer had one last big adventure as a civilian.

He and his good friend from high school, Damon Ceynar, went on a road trip that took them from Glendive to the Pacific Ocean and then all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Matthew had come home on leave Nov. 8, after more than five months of basic training, and he and Damon left for California on Nov. 25, driving Matt's new car, a 2006 Nissan Sentra. They spent a week in Watsonville, Calif., visiting another friend of Matt's, then lit out for Fort Sill, Okla., where Matt had undergone basic training.

Matt quickly got back together with Stephanie Gallegos, a woman he had met the day before going on leave in November. After a couple of days in Oklahoma, the two friends drove to Fort Stewart, Ga., where Matt put in a little less than a month.

Damon couldn't stay in the barracks, but somehow the Army let him sleep in Matt's car on the base.

"I stayed in the car basically the whole month," he said. "They didn't really like it, honestly." Some of the soldiers took to calling him a gypsy and a "homeless hippie," but Damon said it was all in good fun.

The day before Christmas Eve, Matt got a seven-day holiday leave and he and Damon raced back to Oklahoma. Damon said Matt and Stephanie became inseparable, and soon became engaged.

"They talked every night before he left about what they were going to do when he got back and where they were going to live," Damon said.

All they knew for sure was that they wanted to start a family and live in a house on a lake.

The day before Matt and Damon drove back to Fort Stewart, Matt found out he was being deployed to Iraq. Damon said Matt was really scared, but he was also eager to serve. His relatives had served in World War I, World War II and Vietnam and he wanted to be part of that tradition, Damon said.

Matt flew out of Fort Stewart on Jan. 13.

"He tried telling me goodbye, but I told him it was a 'see-ya-later,'" Damon said. "That was pretty much the last thing we said before he got on the plane."

Staff Sgt. Thad Rule, with the U.S. Army Recruiting Office in Glendive, said Matt joined the Future Soldier Program at the start of his senior year of high school, shortly after he turned 17. He spent nearly 10 months learning some of the basics about the Army, preparing him for his training.

Rule said Matt "wanted to do a combat job" and couldn't wait to join the Army. To speed things up, he opted to undergo artillery support training rather than going into the infantry, a move that got him into the Army a month earlier.

Rule, a native of Glendive who served as a peacekeeper in Kosovo for seven months and then as a soldier in Iraq for 13 months, was wounded in fighting outside Fallujah in September 2004. Rule said Matt had "a heart of gold" and "was a kid I never had any trouble with."

Matt was 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed maybe 175 pounds when he went in for basic training.

"The kid came back and he was fit," Rule said. "I'd say his confidence was the big thing."

Tessa Hopper, Matt's former girlfriend, noted the same thing when she spoke Sunday evening during a wake service for Matt.

"He was proud as a peacock when he came home for the holidays," she said.

Damon noticed it, too. Matt had always liked to exercise, he said, but he got in excellent shape during basic training.

"He loved the way he looked when he came home from basic," Damon said.

During his 2 1/2 weeks back in Glendive, Matt volunteered to help with the Army's Hometown Recruiter Assistance Program. He'd spend four hours a day helping with recruiting, talking to prospects and visiting the high school in his uniform.

After leaving the U.S. on Jan. 13, Damon said, Matt went to Kuwait for additional training before shipping out to Iraq on Jan. 25. Matt was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

According to an article in The Army Times, Matt was sent to Combat Outpost Grant late in the evening of Feb. 1. The outpost was in Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar in central Iraq. Less than two hours later, around 1 a.m. Feb. 2, the American soldiers came under "an intense and coordinated attack" mounted by insurgents firing from nearby streets and buildings.

Zeimer and Spc. Alan E. McPeek, a 20-year-old who had been in Iraq for 14 months, ran to the roof of the outpost to fight back. Zeimer and the other members of his unit had been sent to replace the outgoing soldiers, including McPeek, at the outpost. It was supposed to be McPeek's last night there. He was just days away from going home.

The Army Times said commanders believe a shot from a recoilless rifle "blasted through the reinforced concrete wall near McPeek and Zeimer. The impact killed them both." They were among six American soldiers killed that day in Iraq. Zeimer was the 18th Montana soldier to be killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Matt's survivors include his mother and stepfather, Ned and Janet Seymour of Glendive, four sisters, including his twin, Tonya Zeimer, and his father, Thomas Epperson of Connecticut.

For Christmas, Damon said, Matt and Stephanie got each other tattoos. Matt had a heart tattooed on his chest, with the date he met Stephanie written on a scroll over the heart. Stephanie got a lucky horseshoe tattooed on her abdomen, without the date.

"She told me she's going to go back and get the date put in," he said.

From the Gazette

Related Link:
Matthew T. Zeimer killed in ambush