Monday, August 06, 2007

Joshua Mattero remembered by family

It was a blunt request for a copy of an old photo that we ran once. We get them sometimes.

But not like this.

My son Joshua Mattero appeared on the front page of the Daily Press on June 13, 1983.

On Tuesday, July 24, he was killed in Iraq.

A photo request like this, you handle with kid gloves. So we dug up that ancient issue and there's Joshua Mattero, age 5, cradling a bundle of American flags in his arms, wiping at his eye.

His father, Navy retiree Frank Mattero, recalls from his office at the Pentagon that it was Flag Day and his son was helping hand out Old Glories at an Elks Lodge ceremony at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. Metal chairs laid out on the lawn, a bright, sunny day. Frank was attached to the USS Eisenhower at the time.

The moment must have made an impression on Josh, too, because he carried that paper with him when the family was stationed later that same year to England. Then two years later to California, where Josh grew up a fun-loving guy who loved scuba diving and fishing, guns and motorcycles. A guy who was always laughing or ready to; who took a picture of a sunset everywhere he went.

He kept that old clipping even after he married his first and only sweetheart in 1999. Analynn Mattero remembers seeing it in a photo album.

The way Josh described that bright June day in Williamsburg to her, he'd been tossing those flags in the air and catching them again. Not a wise thing to do with all those pokey sticks. Maybe that's why he was wiping at his eye.

"That's just the type of guy Josh was," Analynn said Tuesday in a phone interview from Mira Mesa in the San Diego area. "He was always trying to do some pranks to make someone laugh."

That all ended a week ago Tuesday, when Josh - an Army staff sergeant and team leader on an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) unit - was sent out around midnight Iraqi time to handle three improvised explosive devices.

He got two. The third got him.

"They said that he was a hero," his mother, Sara, recalled from her home in Chula Vista near San Diego. "And this would be... you know ... he will be remembered."

Sara's weeping over the phone as she says it, so you hope very hard that it's true.

Josh was a smart young man who drifted a bit after high school graduation. He joined the Army for some direction, and learned to love it. He married young, too.

When he was 18, he walked into a McDonald's one day wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans, carrying a backpack and a bicycle. Analynn was working the counter.

She watched this young buck hoist up his bicycle and head up to place an order.

"I thought two things: What is this guy doing? And, damn, is he cute!" she says.

They got married two years later on July 18, 1999, in a small ceremony on a San Diego beach. Two weeks after that, Josh shipped out on his first deployment.

Months later, Analynn joined him in Germany, but couldn't adjust to the military.

"To all those military wives, I give them my support, because I couldn't do that," she says.

Josh was deployed for half their married life, she says. They divorced in 2004, but remained close.

Josh deployed once to Kosovo and once to Afghanistan. He finished one tour in Iraq, then started his second in December.

His long-range goal after the military was to work on a police bomb squad unit, so Josh volunteered for EOD work - preventing IEDs from exploding, or exploding them on purpose, all to save lives. Risky, either way. Because of that, it's a job you have to choose.

"They're definitely an elite few," says his father, Frank. "I guess there's no normal, routine day, because what your job really is ... is to be out there saving people's lives."

Frank says he's reminded how important that job is whenever groups of "wounded warriors" are given tours of the Pentagon.

"It is sad to see men and women missing arms, legs and eyes, and sad to know it happened through IEDs, in general," he says. "I don't know if you can call it comforting, but it was always good to know my son was out there doing his best to prevent that."

Josh was stationed out of Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Once, between deployments, he drove back to Hampton Roads, to the Denbigh area where he lived as a little boy, and snapped a photo of the house on Cathy Drive where his family used to live.

He loved holidays at home, and was back in California for Thanksgiving before shipping out this last time.

"He was different," his mother says. "Josh always never had a care in the world, but he was different that time."

Analynn spoke with Josh for hours on the phone before he left. She felt a shift, too.

"He didn't really want to talk about the war," she says. "He didn't want to talk about that - he wanted to talk about me.

"I asked him, why did he want to go? He said there's so many guys that are out there that need to be relieved. That for him to go out there, that means somebody else can come home."

In January, his mother says, Josh got hit in an IED explosion and suffered a concussion. Then came another hit in May.

"Two incendiaries that I know of," Sara says. "There were probably more."

She's not sure how many because Josh never told her about incendiaries. He'd tell his older brother, his younger sister, his father, but not his mother.

"He knew I worried about him," she says.

They talked about re-enlistment, and she was against it. In fact, she never wanted him to sign up in the first place. But she left the decision to Josh.

He stood to make $60,000 if he re-enlisted, Sara says - "That's a lot of money to dangle in front of him."

While in Iraq, Josh e-mailed his family often. Sara says she could tell his last e-mail from Baquba was written in a rush. There were typos and misspellings that were out of character.

She had just finished reading it when there came a knock on the door. Then she starts to cry again, softly, as she describes it, and I can envision the man in uniform on the other side.

Joshua Mattero is even now en route to California, a soldier coming home from the war.

"He wanted to come home," his mother says. "And he's going to come home."

What happens after the funeral is still undecided. His father, who is long divorced from Josh's mother, says he expects his son will be cremated and his remains interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

What happens after that is learning to push through the personal hell of losing a child.

"Like I say to everybody, I have my good moments and I have my bad moments and sometimes they're too close together," Frank says. "And sometimes it's a single word that can kind of set me off."

Like his son's work, Frank's work at the Pentagon also involves the "ordnance munitions field," and that's all he will say about it, except that he's "helping to keep other people safe, too. Sort of like what he was doing, but in remote."

"It doesn't lessen the pain," he says, "but some parents lose a child - suicide, car accident - (and ask) what were they doing there? What were they thinking? How did this happen?

"My son was where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do and doing what he loved doing. And how can you not respect that?"

From the Daily Press

Related Link:
Joshua Mattero remembered

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