Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Matthew Kuglics laid to rest

Marine Lance Cpl. David A. Roberts stood at the front of Queen of Heaven Catholic Church and cried for his lost cousin.

Hundreds of others in the church cried along with him.

Roberts had recalled growing up with Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Kuglics. An older cousin, Kuglics had been more like a big brother to Roberts.

"I love my big brother. I miss him," Roberts said, choking back tears.

Kuglics died June 5 from injuries suffered in the explosion of a roadside bomb. He had turned 25 the week before his death. Sgt. Ryan A. Balmer, 33, of Mishawaka, Ind., also died from the blast.


Another cousin, John Roberts, read a letter that Les Kuglics had written to his son.

The father told about how Matt had volunteered to serve in Iraq to make certain that another young airman who was married and had children wouldn't have to go to war. Les also recalled a phrase his son often used, "No worries, no regrets."

Having Matt as his son was an honor and blessing, Les wrote. "You're what's kept me going for a number of years," John Roberts said, reading Les' words. "You served your country, so brave, so proud and so well."

Hundreds filled Queen of Heaven for the service.

Thousands more lined Massillon and Steese roads in Green, waving flags as the procession that carried Kuglics' remains to the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery passed. He is the 13th soldier killed in Iraq to be buried at the national cemetery.

Since March 14, Kuglics had been stationed in Iraq as an agent with the Air Force office of special investigations. His job involved security work and investigating threats to Air Force installations. He was serving his second tour in Kirkuk and on his 35th combat mission when he died.

Capt. Lee Ballard lamented sending Kuglics on the mission. Ballard told those at the church that he initially blamed himself for what happened to Kuglics and Balmer because he had helped plan the mission. But Ballard said he realized he was just partaking in self-pity. Kuglics wouldn't want to hear self-pity, Ballard said.


Kuglics was a good investigator and great agent, said Andrew Hodges, a former major who trained new agents. "I know his work in Iraq saved countless lives."

Ballard said when he first talked with Kuglics about joining the office of special investigations, he made jokes with the recruit. Kuglics sat back and smiled as the captain talked, and Ballard thought he might be scoring with his jokes.

But soon Ballard found out that Kuglics always smiled, even during early morning workouts. "It was Matt's love of life. He had an infectious smile," Ballard said.

Although members of the Air Force office of special investigations do dangerous work, the unit had been fortunate until last week. "We hadn't lost a soul to this point," Ballard said. "But this took us back a bit."

Ballard thanked the Kuglics family - parents Les and Donna, and sister Emily - for helping airmen in the unit deal with Matt's death. About 50 airmen and officers from around the country came in for the service, many of them members of the special unit.

Hodges echoed those sentiments. He first met the Kuglics last year when Matt re-enlisted. He saw how close the family is and the support they had for Matt. "Seeing a family who is that close says a lot," Hodges said.

While the Kuglics' strength helped so many airmen, Rev. David R. Durkee reminded that family that their friends and the community were on hand to help the family.

"On this very difficult day we have come together not to mend your hearts, not to fix your torn hearts, but to help you cry," Durkee said.


Air Force honor guard units assisted during the church service and at the cemetery.

Leaders barked orders and unit members answered with snap salutes, measured steps and solemn actions. Seven airmen fired rifles in a 21-gun salute. A lone airman played taps. A KC-135 jet flew over the cemetery as honor guard members folded the flag from Kuglics' coffin for the family.

Brig. Gen. Dana Simmons, who commands the office of special investigations, presented the Kuglics family with a Bronze Star that Matt earned during his recent 12-week tour in Iraq. During that period Kuglics had helped identify 254 Iraqi insurgents, and his work led to the capture of 19 insurgents.

The family also will receive the Purple Heart, two commendation medals and the Air Force Combat Medal earned by Matt.

From the Canton Repository

Related Link:
Matthew J. Kuglics dies 'of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device'