Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Matt Emerson laid to rest

Hundreds of people gathered at the Church of the Nazarene on Tuesday to pay their respects to Army Cpl. Matt Emerson, who was killed in Iraq.

Friends and family packed the sanctuary while still others filled a nearby room and the foyer.

More than 50 bikes from the Patriot Guard Riders -- a national veterans group of motorcyclists -- showed up in Emerson's honor.

Emerson, a 20-year-old gunner of a Humvee, died Sept. 18 after being thrown from his vehicle during an early morning patrol in Mosul, just north of Baghdad. Officials with the Department of Defense describe his death as an accident and say it was non-combative.

A 2005 Grandview graduate, his death shook this small town of roughly 8,500 where his parents, L.J. and Ginger Emerson, are well-known in this tightknit community.

Tears trickled from Kathy Berg's eyes as she stood in the church's foyer and described how she learned of her younger cousin's death after mailing him a package filled with Sour Patches candy and bubble gum.

"That's going to be a tear-jerker when that package comes back," she said, wiping away tears. "He was an awesome kid. It's kind of hard when you've just seen him in April and now he's gone."

With the church overflowing with mourners, hundreds more waving American flags lined streets outside as they waited for the motorcade to the Prosser Cemetery, where Emerson was laid to rest near his grandfather.

A huge American flag draped from the ladders of two fire engines spanned Wine Country Road near Interstate 82.

Inside the church, family and friends regarded Emerson as a hero who loved his family and country, and tearfully recalled how he was always playing war games in his backyard.

Flower arrangements served as a backdrop to Emerson's ?casket, which was draped with an American flag.

Those who didn't even know Emerson showed up just to pay their respects.

Santos Trevino was one of them. He brought his wife and two daughters, ages 12 and 8, to honor Emerson.

"Just so they can see what our young people are sacrificing," he said.

During services, Emerson's older brother, Joe, told the crowd how his little brother learned the art of joking and getting out of trouble, and how the two were partners in crime. He recalled one time he tricked his younger brother into eating dry dog food.

Whenever the two would get into trouble, Emerson would always take one of two positions: Take full responsibility for everything, or go along with his older brother's story.

"But the skills he taught me, I'll use forever," Joe said. "Matt was not only my brother, he was my best friend. He was always there to talk to me, help me with my problems."

Emerson's friend Maj. Randy Schliep recalled how learning the realities of war couldn't change his mind about serving in the military.

"I was actually pretty proud to see that burn in his eyes," he said.

Emerson's uncle, retired Navy Capt. Lou Rabe, said his nephew knew what he was getting into when he was deployed to Iraq in November.

Amazed at the turnout, Rabe told the crowd how much his nephew loved his hometown.

"I thank you, Grandview," he said. "It truly takes a village to raise a family."

Whenever he was asked where he'd be if not in Iraq, "Matt always had the same answer," his uncle said. "He'd be at home in Grandview, having a barbecue, a beer and being with you guys."

Rabe noted that Emerson's unit had survived eight roadside bombings before the Humvee accident. In closing, he said that his nephew was living out his dream when he died.

"So, if anyone ever asked what did Matt ever do with his life, let it be said that he served in the United States Army -- that's all that needs to be said."

After family and friends filed through the sanctuary to get one last glimpse of Emerson's body, a handful of motorcycles flying American flags led the procession of hundreds of vehicles to the Prosser Cemetery.

There, veterans stood at attention while Emerson's casket was slowly carried to a grave site at the foot of a grassy knoll next to his grandfather.

Hundreds of people covered a northern hillside at the cemetery while others gathered to the south of the grave. There, military officials presented Emerson's parents with his Bronze Star and Good Conduct Medal. His other medals of valor include the Iraqi Campaign Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Emerson's parents, brother and sister sat quietly as all four were also given a gold star lapel button, which symbolizes the loss of a loved one during military service.

Military officials also explained that Emerson was promoted to the rank of corporal the day he died.

Assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas, Emerson is the 10th serviceman with ties to the Yakima Valley to die in Iraq.

"Matt's a hero," Schliep said softly.

From the Yakima Herald

Related Link:
Matthew J. Emerson dies 'of injuries suffered from a non-combat related incident'