Saturday, June 02, 2007

Matthew Bean remembered

PEMBROKE - The connection was bad, the conversation brief. He was in a dangerous situation, but Pfc. Matthew Bean called home on May 18 to let everyone know he was OK.

The next day he was struck down by a sniper’s bullet. Trying to save the lives of fellow soldiers, he would lose his own.

After surgery in Germany, Bean was flown back to the U.S. to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, on May 23, and later was moved to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. There he was surrounded by his parents, step-parents, brother, Timothy, and his fiancée, Sarah O’Neill.

Bean was taken off life support Wednesday and died early Thursday morning. He was 22.

Sitting close together on a couch in their Fairway Lane home, in a room filled with photos of the handsome young soldier with sparkling eyes and a friendly smile, Dana and Cheryl Bean remembered that last call and Matthew’s last visit home.

Some families who lose servicemen and women understandably become angry, Dana Bean said. But he said that with Matthew’s death there is no anger, only pride and love.

As difficult as this time is, he said, through their Christian faith they have the hope they will see Matthew again.

"We knew all along this could be Matthew’s fate," Dana said. "He was in God’s hands, and he’s in God’s hands now."

Matthew wasn’t much for writing letters, but called as often as he could. He got leave and came home for Thanksgiving.

Even then, he knew that what he was doing in Iraq was dangerous, but he also knew it was important, Dana Bean said.

"Like any story you hear, he was a little nervous, a little scared," Bean said. "But they all want to go back because they don’t want to leave their friends behind."

Matthew’s decision to join the Army was one he took seriously. He spent a semester in college studying agriculture and worked in landscaping. He got his first job when he was a sophomore in high school to save money for a pickup truck. He worked for the Pembroke landscaper Down to Earth.

But the story of another Pembroke soldier had touched and stayed with him. Marine 1st Lt. Brian McPhillips was the first soldier from the South Shore to lose his life in Iraq, in 2003, just a few months before Matthew graduated from Silver Lake Regional High School.

"We talked about that, about Brian McPhillips’ commitment," Dana Bean said. "You could see it sink in, it made him think."

He enlisted around Christmas in 2005 and left for training in January 2006 at Fort Drum, N.Y., where he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division.

The relatively short distance enabled him to visit Pembroke and his mother and stepfather, Mary and Shawn Brennan, in Plymouth before he was sent to Iraq last August.

It was nice, Shawn Brennan said, to have that precious time.

Dana Bean joked that the photo of Matthew in uniform didn’t quite represent his son, who was always a hard and determined worker.

"It’s that stern Army thing they do," he said with a grin. "You never saw him without a smile."

Though somewhat reserved, he always wanted to be in the thick of things, his brother Timothy said.

"He was a pretty funny guy, he’d always crack jokes, lighten the mood." Timothy said. "I was looking forward to him coming home and being able to spend time just hanging out and getting back to normal."

Matthew’s family said he was no couch potato: He loved the outdoors and a multitude of sports. Snowboarding, wakeboarding, judo, soccer and football still left him time to play the guitar.

He played on a men’s softball team sponsored by Down to Earth, his employer. On Thursday night, before the team played, the commissioners of the league unveiled a plaque behind home plate at the Hanson Athletic Association bearing his number 20 and the words "In Loving Memory of Matt Bean."

Angie Townsend, whose husband, Travis, played on the team with Bean, said his number will be retired and his jersey framed. The team plans to raise money to give to the family to possibly start a scholarship in Bean’s name.

"We wanted his family to know that we’ll always remember him and miss him and he’ll always be in our hearts," Townsend said.

"They raised an incredible man who touched many people," Angie Townsend said.

Sitting on a table in the Beans’ living room in front of photos of Matthew were testaments to lives he touched a world away. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

He also received an Army Commendation Medal - for what, Dana Bean wasn’t sure. Matthew hadn’t mentioned it, which didn’t surprise Dana in the least.

"To him it was no big deal," he said. "He was just doing what he was supposed to do."

From the Ledger

Related Link:
Matthew Bean reported to have died at Bethesda of wounds suffered when shot by a sniper