Sunday, September 02, 2007

Matthew Tallman remembered by family

The bad news came in digital bits and pieces.

First it was her Yahoo news page, with word of another helicopter crash in Iraq. Virginia Tallman tapped out an e-mail to her son, San Jose-born Matthew, crew chief on a Blackhawk in Kirkuk.

Please tell me you're OK, she wrote.

Then came the caller ID on her living room phone. It was her son's wife, Nicole, calling from Fort Lewis, Wash.

And she knew he was gone.

As she prepares this week to bury her only child, the fourth South Bay serviceman to die in the war during the past two months, the retired Stanford nurse recalled that morning last week, sitting in her Pine Mountain Lake home near Yosemite. Six-year-old Sandra Tallman, down for a week of summertime pampering, stood at her side, watching grandma's face.

"She's having a very difficult time with it," said the 65-year-old widow, who had raised her son in the San Jose area while doing AIDS research at Stanford. "Some moments, she's very sad; sometimes she can forget a little and play with other kids. But she understands his helicopter crashed, and that he died. She doesn't think it's fair. And she doesn't know why it had to be her dad."

A day after Wednesday's crash, the few details released by the military emerged in a terse press release. Tallman was one of 14 soldiers who were killed when the chopper went down in Multaka, Iraq, about 13 miles west of the northern city of Kirkuk. His three fellow crew members from Fort Lewis died, along with 10 soldiers they had just picked up for a transfer. The cause of the crash was still under investigation. And the rest of the release was a long list of names, ranks, ages, hometowns.

The third name on the list belonged to the love of Nicole Tallman's life.

They had met at Fort Eustis, Va., both Blackhawk mechanics. Nicole, 27, said she fell for two things: his "big blue eyes," and his soft sell.

"There were 250 men to 10 women at Eustis," she said. "So the guys stumbled over each other to get to us. Matt stood out because he didn't."

After they married in 2000, Nicole went into the reserves to care for their first child. As Tallman was transferred from place to place, including a stint in Afghanistan, the Tallmans finally settled two years ago at Fort Lewis, and soon the family grew to include Matthew, now 1 year old.

Then last May, dad left for Iraq.

In a way, it was a long-lived dream come true for Tallman, who was born at Stanford and raised in and around San Jose. After attending schools in San Jose and Saratoga, then St. Lawrence Academy in Santa Clara, Tallman drifted for a few years until the light bulb went off.

"He came back to Groveland where I had moved to semi-retire," said Virginia Tallman, "but he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. One day he came home and asked me `What do you think if I join the Army?' I thought it was a good idea. This would be a new start for him."

The icing: The Army would teach him aviation. Said his mom: "He kept saying, `All I want to do is fly.' "

Maybe he got the aviation bug from spending much of his younger life in airplanes. His mother's research took her all over the world, and she often carried her son along. So birthdays became the benchmark for this young vagabond.

"He turned 16 in Harari, Zimbabwe," said Tallman's mom. "He had his 7th birthday hiking in Glen Aulin outside of Tuolumne Meadows, his 12th hiking in Switzerland. He had another birthday in Afghanistan. And he turned 30 the day he went into Iraq."

After a graveside service, Tallman will be buried Friday morning at Gates of Heaven Cemetery in Los Altos, because, as Virginia put it, "he's going to be buried as close to his dad as we can get him."

"He was a gentle soul, a good soul," she said of her son. "He loved the Army. He loved his children and his wife."

And, said Nicole, "Just make sure to tell your readers he was a good guy and he deserves all the respect he can get."

From the San Jose Mercury News

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