A Hero is Honored

Matthew Vandegrift had the world by the tail. He graduated from high school near Austin, Texas in 1999 where he was an exceptional student and talented athlete. He graduated from Texas A&M a few years later, again with honors. He could have made the most difficult decision he faced the job interviews he would entertain or the new apartment he would find. He could have decided to work on his physical acuity to get himself in peak physical shape for the sheer joy of it, becoming lax when the work got too hard or his interest waned.

But the rigorous and demanding physical regime he followed was not about running a faster mile. A knee ligament injury stood in the way of Matt joining the Marines. He underwent surgery and months of physical therapy all with the desire to survive the rigors of the recruit physical, a goal he achieved when he was accepted into the Marines in 2005.

In 2007, Matt left for Iraq as an infantry officer. In April of this year, he gave the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf when he was killed in action.

Matthew was, and is, so much more than a son, a friend a brother or a Marine. His courage and the power of his inner-voice is a gift to all Americans whether they had the privilege to know him personally or are simply the collective recipients of his bravery.

In a fitting act, the Leander School district in Texas voted unanimously to name their new high school, opening in 2010, to honor him. They have chosen to honor what most parents hope to see in the children they send out into the world: loyalty, honor, bravery and determination.

It is almost mind numbing to find that this decision has caused some in the community to attempt to politicize this honor. It is other-wordly to find that there are those that can not seem to grasp what makes the wonderful men and women in our military commit their hearts and souls to an inherently dangerous task.

Unfortunately, there are those who have chosen to attempt to sway the school board to change their decision. One comment , indicative of the frame of mind of these confused souls, reads in part : "Naming the school after someone who signed up to serve in an illegal war promotes the board’s political pro-war message.Both my sons will attend this school. Both of them will know that it was named after someone who willingly signed up to take part in an illegal war defending, mainly, business interests."

Where are the platitudes, that we all knew were empty all anyway, that people like the author of the comments above love to drape themselves in, "We support the Troops but not the war." Is there any more obvious opportunity to do just that? And yet, they show exactly what they really mean when they choose to grind their political ax on the sacrifice of a Marine and on the wounded hearts of his family and friends.

Normally, I take a steadying breath when I know that public officials are squarely in the crosshairs of the left. The endless haranguing and toxic vitriol can be overwhelming and exhausting. When I read the superintendent’s response to one of the many, many letters of support he received, I was able to exhale in a way that the modern political landscape rarely seems to allow.

Superintendent Champion writes, “Matt Vandegrift was an honor student who exemplified the ethical behaviors that we teach and model for our students. In addition, he volunteered to defend you and me — and our nation — dying in this service. We, too, are proud of Matt, and feel that he will serve as an inspiration/role model for future Vandegrift High School students. I believe that Vandegrift High School is a name that will inspire our young people, and a worthy choice.”

Matthew Vandergrift was a gift to our Nation. He was a gift to parents like me who long to show our children examples of heroes in an age of the Spears sisters collective debacles and the A-Rod front page divorce slimming.

His brother Barrett’s words capture not only Matthew’s character but the essence of the entire Vandegrift family. "Matt would never have asked or probably cared that a school be named after him. Being the kind of guy he was, his sacrifice was for all of us and the ideals we believe in, not for self aggrandizement. And not only for us, but also for the Iraqi people, who he was training to defend themselves. Many times talking to him, he said that they were making good progress in standing them up on their own, and that he had hope that eventually we’d be able to leave them to defend themselves. Anyway, he was so much more than just another uniform. His love and bright character will not be soon forgotten by those that knew him."

Men like Matt are the pride of our Nation. What a joy to see that there are communities across our Nation who understand the blessings we have been given.

Semper Fi, Matthew, and thank you.