As a toddler, Matthew Lourey dreamed of flying one day. A picture of him as an adult as a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army in a crisp flight suit shows him beaming in front of his Kiowa Warrior helicopter.
Lourey, the second son of state Sen. Becky Lourey of Kerrick, was doing what he loved - and what he considered his duty - when he and another U.S. soldier were killed Thursday when their helicopter crashed after being shot at in central Iraq.
He was 40; it was his second tour of duty.
The crash came as the Iraqi government prepared to ring Baghdad with tens of thousands of security forces to curb the rampant insurgency.
"He, like so many other soldiers, believed sincerely and completely in his duty to his country and fellow soldiers," the Lourey family said in a statement. "He served his nation knowing far better than most of us what dangers awaited him and he faced those dangers with the greatest of courage."
Sen. Lourey is a DFLer who was a candidate for governor in 2002 and is often mentioned as a possible candidate for that office in the future. She had 12 children, two of whom had died previously.
At the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said negotiation sessions between the governor and legislative leaders would be canceled at least until Tuesday.
As relatives and friends gathered Friday at the family home in Pine County's Kerrick Township, Becky Lourey, an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, said she admired her son's sense of duty.
Outside the house, U.S. and Minnesota flags were lowered to half-staff.
"He was such an excellent pilot, I never thought he'd go down," Lourey said, fingering a pocket guide to military helicopters. "Who better than someone as committed to his country and his fellow
servicemen than Matt protecting us?"
Matt Lourey, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., was one of the older pilots in the military and was close to retirement. At one point he had been offered a chance to move away from helicopters to fly fixed-wing aircraft. It would have meant several years of training and a likely return to Washington, D.C., where he and his wife, Lisa, had recently purchased a home in the Maryland
suburbs. Lisa, who is regular Army, works at the Pentagon.
Instead he went back to Iraq, reasoning that his experience could be best used there. His family strongly urged him not to go.
"He went back over there. He didn't have to. He volunteered," said his brother Tim, 42, a crane operator who lives in Oliver, Wis. "I told him, `Brother, I admire you, I respect you and my love goes with you.'-"
When Becky Lourey prepared a Senate petition two years ago urging President Bush not to go to war in Iraq, she first sent it to Matt and asked his permission. He gave it.
"I thought this was an inappropriate war, but that didn't make Matt's responsibility any less," she said.
Matt himself had expressed reservations, particularly after his first tour of duty, which involved providing air cover for infantry, said his brother Tony, 37, a public policy consultant who lives near Kerrick Township.
"We have pretty strong feelings, really. We don't believe that we had any business over there. I'm speaking for me, I know I'm speaking for Dad when I say that," Tony Lourey said. But, he said, his brother felt honor-bound to go back. He had also been moved by the devastation of war in Bosnia during an earlier tour in the Balkans.
"We all talked to him and said, `Matt, what they hell are you doing? Don't go back over there.' But he said, `I signed up for this, I know the risks, the U.S. paid me to learn how to fly this bird.' "
Flying the bird was always Matt Lourey's goal. It was why, after graduating from Askov High School in 1982 and a stint in college, he joined the U.S. Marines. But they made him a cook instead, and
when the Marines balked at enrolling him in flight training, Lourey quit the Marines to try another route.
He became an Army Reservist and signed up for a bush pilot course at Ely Community College, finally persuading the Army to give him a shot. When high cholesterol threatened to ground him, Lourey became a vegetarian and started running, eventually competing in 10 marathons.
On Friday morning, Majority Leader Johnson, who also is an Army chaplain, said the military called him and asked him to notify Sen. Lourey, who was at the Capitol.
But by then Lourey already had been called by her daughter-in-law and was on her way home to Kerrick Township, about 35 miles southwest of Duluth. Her husband, Gene, was notified in Kerrick by the military and sheriff's deputies.
As early as Thursday evening, family members were aware of a report about two helicopters hit in Iraq. Friday morning, they learned the choppers were in Matt's division.
Diane Cushman, director of the Legislative Commission on the Economic Status of Women, walked into Lourey's Senate office just before 9 a.m. as Lourey received a phone call. "As soon as she turned around, you could tell right away," Cushman said.
"My son is dead," Lourey told Cushman. She grabbed her purse and ran down the hall.
"As soon as I heard, I jumped in the car and started driving," she said later Friday at her home. "I had to get to my husband. A lot of my colleagues called me on the way up. They were worried about me driving alone. But I had to get to my husband. He's just falling apart."
State Patrol officers caught up with her in Rush City and escorted her the rest of the way.
Johnson said Lourey would come to talk and pray with him every time there was news of a helicopter crash in Iraq.
"When you have a son or daughter who is in conflict, every time there's a situation, you think, `Oh, my God, is that my son, my daughter, my wife?' " Johnson said. The last time it happened was about six weeks ago and Lourey came to Johnson on the Senate floor.
"She said, `Dean, I just hope that isn't Matt,' " he recalled.
While Johnson never met Matt, he said Becky often talked about how as a little boy he was obsessed with flying. "Let's just say he was living out his childhood dream," Johnson said.
In Lourey's Senate office, her assistant Pat Wallner fielded a stream of phone calls and stared at an e-mail picture of Matt Lourey standing in front of his helicopter. "He was her second-born child," Wallner mused. "He was always on her mind. They kept in touch by e-mail. She respected his choice and just loved him to death."
As a child, Wallner said, Matt had "a huge collection of military figures. He still had them as an adult. I guess it was something he always wanted to do."
Gov. Tim Pawlenty reflected on the news during his weekly radio show.
"Obviously our hearts and prayers and sympathy go out to Senator Lourey and her family," he said. "Another tragic example of the price that people pay for the duty and honor of our country's
request of them. As a state, our thoughts and prayers are with this family at a very, very trying time."
His own drummer
U.S. officials were investigating Thursday's crash of the two-seat OH-58 Kiowa helicopter near Buhriz, a former Saddam Hussein stronghold about 35 miles north of Baghdad.
The armed U.S. reconnaissance helicopter was supporting combat operations in Buhriz. The slain soldiers were with Task Force Liberty, under the command of the Tikrit-based 42nd Infantry Division.
The military said small-arms fire downed the helicopter, while another returned to base safely despite being hit.
At least 1,652 members of the U.S. military - 22 from Minnesota - have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
In Kerrick Township, the Lourey family and their friends prepared for an especially somber and poignant Memorial Day weekend. Plans for services have not yet been set, but family members were talking about burial at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. "I honestly think that's where he'd want to be," Tony Lourey said.
Becky Lourey sighed, and her eyes had a faraway look.
"Always he was unique, wasn't he - his own drummer," she said, almost to herself.
Talking about her son wasn't easy. But he had done his duty, and so she was doing hers.
"I just want to run and hide," she said. "But Matt belongs to all of us now."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. The writers are at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.