Friday, July 27, 2007

Joshua P. Mattero dies 'wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device'

CHULA VISTA – Army Staff Sgt. Joshua P. Mattero was far from the highways he fearlessly explored on his motorcycle when the bombs exploded Tuesday.

The 29-year-old from Chula Vista was working to neutralize improvised explosive devices in Baquba, Iraq.

Later that day, Sara Mattero heard a knock on her front door. She had recently finished reading an e-mail from her son in Iraq and felt uneasy about its many typos.

“I know he did it fast before leaving,” Mattero said yesterday.

It wasn't the first bomb attack her son confronted, but he had always escaped relatively unharmed. This time, two soldiers sat in her home and told her that Joshua's death saved others from harm.

“They said he was a hero,” Sara Mattero said, “but that doesn't bring him back.”

She and her son were corresponding through e-mails about him possibly getting out of the military. An opponent of the Iraq war from its start, Sara Mattero wanted him to leave the Army. But she emphasized that the ultimate decision rested with him.

The two also talked about the issue last fall, when Joshua Mattero came home for a visit. The Army had offered him a hefty bonus to re-enlist, and the money proved an attractive draw.

But mother and son shared an ominous feeling, Sara Mattero recalled. That reunion was the last time she saw her son alive.

“I had a horrible feeling when he went back over there this time. I think he did too,” she said. Her family hasn't received Mattero's body or made funeral arrangements.

Mattero had deployed for his third combat tour in the Middle East in December. He belonged to the 749th Ordnance Company, 63rd Explosive Ordnance Battalion, a bomb unit stationed out of Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

His Army service began in 1998, two years after he graduated from Castle Park Senior High School in Chula Vista. He chose the bomb squad because its tight-knit camaraderie and highly technical work suited him.

Mattero possessed engineering skills since childhood. Family members remembered coming home to find various appliances disassembled.

“I remember when he was in high school, he brought home a stereo and took it apart into 10 million pieces,” said Melissa Mattero, his younger sister. “He would take it apart and put it back together again just to see how it worked.”

Despite their seven-year age difference, the siblings developed a special bond as they grew older. Sometimes they went out on the town, sometimes they rode motorcycles.

“He went with the flow,” Melissa Mattero said.

Joshua's easygoing demeanor, confidence and charm made him well-liked.

For example, he had no qualms about being the only male cheerleader on the Castle Park High squad. Mattero often drew standing ovations during pep rallies and became the envy of other guys.

“They were in awe of him,” said his older brother, Scott Mattero.

After earning his high school diploma, Joshua Mattero attended college for a while. His decision to join the Army surprised mentor Mike O'Neill of the San Diego Police Department, who had wanted the young man to become a law-enforcement officer as well.

But O'Neill admired Mattero after witnessing his dedication to the military.

“He loved what he was doing,” O'Neill said. “He could have easily gotten out and done something similar in the private sector and made more money, but he loved it.”

In hindsight, O'Neill said, Mattero showed his commitment to service long before departing for Iraq, long before trying to defuse those bombs.

O'Neill remembered helping Mattero renovate soccer fields at Chula Vista High School as part of an Eagle Scout project. Mattero was 18 then.

“Josh went way further than most kids did,” O'Neill said. “I have three sons and this young man was an example of how you hope your children would be.”

From the San Diego Tribune