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Scattered about the farmhouse are pictures of Matt as a child: waving a wooden sword, or piloting a wooden airplane hung from a tree. In the basement, toy soldiers maneuver across a plywood diorama, a battle scene Matt designed.
"He loved toys, games and physical things, and he was always full of joy when he played," his father said. "He liked to draw, too. I thought he might grow up to design toys."
Matt's parents tried to talk him out of returning to Iraq for a second tour.
"We were war protesters," Gene said. "But Matt knew what he was born to be."
Matt was 19 when the Marine barracks in Beirut was bombed. He joined the Marines but switched to the Army Reserve so he could fly. When high cholesterol threatened to ground him, he became a vegetarian and distance runner.
Becky, who last year joined a war protest outside President Bush's Texas ranch, said she treasures the stories other soldiers told her of "hearing the whir of the helicopter blades and then Matt's voice and knowing the cavalry was on the way."
Pride jockeys with grief in Matt's father, too.
"I know better than anyone in the world that he was doing what he wanted to do," he said. "I did everything I could to get him not to go in the military, and I did everything I could to get him not to go back to Iraq.
"But he thought it was his duty. He told me he was the most experienced pilot in his unit. He trained the others.
"I think he would have gone back even if he knew he'd be shot down. And, truthfully, I admire him for that. You have to admire that dedication."
Chuck Haga 612-673-4514