MATTHEW C. FREEMAN, CAPT, USMC
Matthew Freeman '02
Date of birth: January 19, 1980
Date of death: August 7, 2009
From the 2002 Lucky Bag:
Captain Matthew C. H. Freeman, USMC, died on 7 August 2009. He was 29 years old.
Matthew was born in Lake Forest, IL, and spent most of his life in Richmond Hill, GA. He was a graduate of Richmond Hill High School, where he was a member of the tennis team, president of the Student Council and a member for four years, and a member of the Literary Club. In 1998, he earned the "Student of the Year" Award from the Richmond Hill Exchange Club. Matthew was an Eagle Scout and a life long member of the Richmond Hill United Methodist Church. After high school, he entered the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 2002 with an aerospace engineering degree. He received third generation naval aviator wings, passed down from his grandfather Rear Admiral DeWitt L. Freeman, USN (Ret.), and his father Commander Gary M. Freeman '76, USN (Ret.).
He served as the aide-de-camp to Major General Kenneth J. Glueck Jr USMC, Commanding General Second Marine Aircraft Wing. Matthew was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, with VMGR-152 where he flew the KC-130J aircraft. He volunteered for an individual augment position with Fourth Marmes Embedded Training Team, which deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was while serving with this unit that he was killed in action.
Matthew is survived by his wife, Theresa Hess Freeman of Richmond Hill; parents, Commander Gary Freeman, USN (Ret), and Lisa Freeman of Richmond Hill; sisters, Marybeth Macias (Staff Sergeant Michael Macias, USAF), and Ginny Freeman of Richmond Hill; brother, Harrison Hays of Evanston, IL; maternal grandparents, Commander James Baumgardner, USN (Ret.), and Betty Baumgardner of Yorktown, VA; paternal grandfather Rear Admiral DeWitt Freeman, USN (Ret.), of Louisa, VA; paternal grandparents, Yvonne and Charlie Hays of Dallas, TX; nephews, Rowdy Macias of Tacoma, WA, and Brendan and Patrick Hess of San Antonio, TX. He is also survived by Mark and Paula Hays of Evanston, IL; and many loving aunts, uncles and cousins. Shipmate, November-December 2009
He is buried in Naval Academy Cemetery.
Final Journal Entry
Dated August 2, 2009, from The Matthew Freeman Project
Mom, Dad, I can never repay you for all you have done for me. You made me into the man I am today. I hope that I have made you proud. That has always been my goal. I love you both so much. Tell the girls that I love them and couldn’t be a prouder older brother. I have always tried to be an honorable man and I truly believe in what we are doing here. I am doing this for my family; so that they need not fear, My country, so that it can be a beacon of light for the entire world; the men around me, because no one could ask for a more august company than the men of the US Armed Forces and finally I do this for myself so that I might know the measure of myself and in the end not be found wanting. I believe that it is my duty to fight and having done all that I can to simply stand against this and all the evil works upon this Earth.
On this morning ten years ago we set out on a mission that was a lot larger than what we had usually done. But to us it was business as usual. As I prepared for the mission I jumped in the back of an old M113 and I met a young Captain by the name of Matthew Freeman. He was different, because with my rank at the time I didn’t really hold conversations with a Captain. He told me he had been in Afghanistan for 8 days and never seen combat. I said “Wow! You’re in for some fun today, dude!” I still remember the smile and high-five I got as we were nervously excited. As we moved in and took fire a bullet hits in between me and Capt Freeman and goes through the floor. We rush out and charge the hill with our other brothers. I remember seeing Matt majestically pull an Afghan rifleman by the belt to pull him back in the midst of fire because he was so scared he was going to get hit and wouldn’t move. Matt returned fire and talked on the radio to the apaches above and looked like a combat angel. I’ve never seen somebody so cool. We made the decision to move to higher ground and Matt and I cleared a home and made for the roof. There was a lull in the fighting. We started talking and he told me about his wife, a precious girl, and how he couldn’t wait to talk to her on the phone with her later. I then snapped a photo of us looking cool. The fighting picked back up when I felt a bullet hit near my feet and I said we need to get down. “You go first, I’ll cover you.” Those were the last words he said to me.
I still hurt ten years later. I miss a friend I only knew for about 16 hours more than anyone should. And getting to know his precious family has been a joy. Matt will be remembered as the coolest, strongest, most courageous man I know. My sons will know him and honor him like I do. Matt, you are sorely missed, even ten years later. I love you, man. I can’t wait to finish our conversation as we praise God together in Heaven.
What Doc humbly neglects to mention in his story is that he turned around and went back up to the rooftop to pull Matt to safety and attempt 1st Aid - getting shot himself in the process. Two heroes on that roof, 10 years ago today. Tee Jay See
From Justin Evans on Facebook, Memorial Day 2016 (May 30):
I'll never forget the day you fell in battle. August 7th, 2009. You were laying prone next to me, being the eyes for Apache choppers as I guarded your flank. The gunfire had quieted, it was calm over the battlefield. I told jokes to make you laugh. We talked about our significant others and took a snapshot of ourselves looking awesome. When the battle resumed we got back to work. I felt a bullet land just next to my foot. We agreed to move to cover, but it was too late. You took a bullet that passed inches from my face. I see this moment in my head every day, almost every time I close my eyes. I only knew you for a short time, yet you are my brother. I'll never forget how you fought gallantly till the end. In Heaven I will see you again where we can finish our conversation. Semper Fi brother.
From Jeffrey Thomas '02 on May 26, 2017:
I got to know Matt when he was working as a trainer for the football team. He was kind, outgoing and always quick with a joke. He had the type of smile that made everyone feel at ease. No matter how poorly your day was going Matt was able to turn it around.
From Michael Smith '02 in an email on May 27, 2017:
I tutored him in physics while in Annapolis. He was always a bit of an imp – always had a sparkle of mischief in his eye. Nothing sinister, just always interested in pushing the limits a little. When talking about physics, he tended to noisily act like he was dumb for not learning the material instantly, but it was mostly an act. He picked up the concepts quickly, when explained to him in a way that was a little less academic. … After physics, we didn’t really run in the same circles, so I didn’t see him much again until we were in training in Mississippi. There isn’t much to do in Meridian other than drink with your flight school classmates, so we were frequently at the same parties. … Marines at that time were being rushed through jet training, so he went to the fleet well ahead of me and I lost touch with him. I can say that when I heard he died in ground combat, it didn’t surprise me, even if it did sadden me - he was always struck me as the kind of guy to not shy from danger.
From Lisa Timmons via Facebook on August 7, 2018:
I can’t claim to have been one of Matt’s closest friends, but I do have fond memories of the times I did spend with him. He had a great sense of humor that I will never forget.
One of my favorite Matt moments was when he was showing off in between classes senior year of high school by ordering flowers (I think it was for Valentine’s Day?) on a cell phone (wow!) using a credit card (double wow!) Please keep in mind that this was the late nineties so he was definitely FLEXING HARD.
Meanwhile, sarcastic teen that I was, I made a big show of writing down the credit card number and expiration date. Once he was off the phone, I thanked him for the credit card info and told him I planned to use it to finance my college education. True to form, he thought it was hilarious and just laughed. Try as you might, you just couldn’t faze Matt.
The last time I saw him was during one of my many visits home to Richmond Hill over Christmas since moving to L.A. I grabbed a quick drink with him and True North.
I remember thinking how they had both grown up to be such cool, interesting people and how lovely it was to catch up with high school friends. They made this army brat feel like I finally truly had a hometown, somewhere I could tell people I was from. They were people I would brag about to my friends on the West Coast as some of the best and brightest from my high school, who I had always known would do great things.
I truly enjoyed all of my silly high school times with Matt and marveled at what kind of man he grew up to be after we all went our separate ways. Next time I have a drink, I’ll be sure to toast to that quick, generous laugh of his. Here’s to Matt!
From Laura Dover on Facebook on August 7, 2020:
Matthew was a good man, full of ideals and a fierce desire to make a difference. Wishing he was still here- rooting for Navy, watching the kids I know he wanted one day grow, regaling his friends with thrilling aviator tales, and continuing to be a force for good. Thank you for your sacrifice Matt.
The photos posted below are also from Laura:
Matt's family began The Matthew Freeman Project in his name. It is a "not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to the support of education in order to promote communities of promise, prosperity and peace throughout the US and the World."
Matt is memorialized in the book In the Shadow of Greatness, a two-time Los Angeles Times Best Seller that was published in 2012.
An article on Matt's 2009 memorial service at USNA can be found here.
From WSAV (Savannah NBC):
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — “His last words to me were, ‘Mom, can you get pens and paper over here? They’d rather have that than food and water.’”
Two days after Captain Matthew Freeman said those words to his mother Lisa, he was killed in action in Afghanistan. Now, she describes why she began a foundation in her son’s name — the Matthew Freeman Project.
One of the project’s initiatives, Pens & Paper for Peace, collected 16,000 pounds of school supplies in the past five years that were given to soldiers and Marines who were able to give them directly to children in Afghanistan.
“Some of my favorite memories are actually seeing the pictures of the soldiers giving them to these children and the smiles on those faces,” Freeman said.
Her two daughters put their education on hold at the time of their brother’s death. Freeman calls siblings the forgotten mourners, which sparked the idea to create a scholarship fund for siblings of fallen soldiers. The project has provided nine scholarships so far.
“How many times my daughter’s told me that people came up and said, ‘How’s your mom,’ or ‘How’s your sister-in-law?’ and they didn’t ask about them,” Freeman said. “Yet they are the ones who I think when I look around probably suffer the most. They miss that older brother terribly.”
Another one of the project’s initiatives called Matthew Bears creates bears for families out of fallen soldier’s uniforms.
At one point, Lisa received over 1,000 emails asking about Matthew Bears. Half of the emails were from seamstresses all over the world asking if they could help sew.
The Matthew Freeman Project has made over 700 bears for families who lost loved ones, including combat-related suicides.
“I was so afraid of losing that connection that Matt still could make with so many people and what God has shown me is that, in fact, it touched probably many more than he ever would have if he had maybe still been able to still be with us,” Freeman said.
In 2009, Captain Freeman married his highschool sweetheart, Theresa Hess. Three weeks later, he volunteered for ground action when he heard the Marines needed more forces.
September marks the 10 year anniversary of Matthew’s death when he was just 29-years-old.
“He was just a fun kid to raise because there was never a dull moment. He was always involved in something. He was president of the school and his wife was the vice president of the school, they were good friends,” Freeman said. “Sadly, they had only been married a month when he was killed.”
At the end of Captain Matthew Freeman Drive sits a memorial dedicated to Matthew in the Bryan County building so his legacy can live on.
“I love it because there’s a podium in there with a little book that people can write in and when I go in there to pay my taxes or get license plates or whatever I stop and read the comments,” Freeman said. “I love hearing from past soldiers or Marines or just people that knew him growing up saying, ‘We miss you Matthew’ or whatever it is — the comments are very uplifting.”
Matthew’s last journal entry is under glass in the memorial, a special, yet heartbreaking discovery for his mother.
“I didn’t let myself read it for about two or three years. His wife sent it to us but I couldn’t bear the thought of it because it started out:
‘Mom, Dad, you made me the man I am today. Tell the girls I love them and I couldn’t be a prouder older brother.’ But he goes onto say, ‘I do this for my family so they need not fear, I do this for my country so it can be a beacon of light for the entire world and for myself so I might know the measure of myself and not be found wanting.’
It was like a gift to let me know that he was stable and sure of who he was.”
It’s not hard to tell from hundreds of loving comments in the memorial book how special of a person Matthew was.
“Even when you talked to the men who were with him on the ground just loved him because he put them first, made them feel important and that’s just kind of the way he was,” Freeman said. “I think one of my favorite things about him was his laughter. He had the best chuckle of anybody I knew.”
Freeman says she’s thankful she created the Matthew Freeman Project because it got her through the hard times knowing the scope of families going through a similar tragedy she was able to help.
“It has probably been one of the most meaningful things that I’ve been able to do in my lifetime,” she said, adding, “I can see my son smiling down and being very proud.”
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" (Posthumously) to Captain Matthew C. Freeman, United States Marine Corps, for heroic service in connection with combat operations against the enemy as a Fire Support Team Leader and Company Advisor for the 1st Battalion, 3d Brigade, 201st Corps, Afghan National Army. Captain Freeman's keen judgment and decisive leadership were ever present in all phases of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. On 7 August 2009, Captain Freeman engaged in the combined and joint Operation BREST THUNDER in one of the most dangerous areas within the 201st Corps' Area of Operations, the Shpee Valley of Kapisa Province. The strength of the enemy in the Shpee Valley was estimated to consist of more than eighty insurgents with reports that a large number of reinforcements had recently moved into the area. Acting to conduct a reconnaissance of force in the valley, Captain Freeman's element received enemy fire almost immediately upon leaving the combat outpost. Pinned down as the result of this fire, Captain Freeman decided to clear a kulat in order to gain access to the top deck and achieve better observation of the enemy's firing position. Receiving a heavy volume of enemy fire, Captain Freeman led the way in clearing the house and was the first to reach the rooftop. Once on the rooftop, he spotted an enemy Rocket-Propelled Grenade gunman and spotted several other insurgents and began to engage while under fire. It was at this time that Captain Freeman fell mortally wounded. He fought with bravery and determination while demonstrating unwavering courage in the face of the enemy. Captain Freeman's performance of duty in a combat zone reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. (The Combat Distinguishing Device is authorized.)
Service: Marine Corps