- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

U.S. Army Cpl. Matthew A. Commons, 21, was used to covert missions. Ever since he was a teen-ager, he, his father Greg, and brother Aaron, would often sneak out of the house to see the latest movie after his younger brothers, Patrick and Thomas, went to bed.

"We'd conspire a way to get them to go to bed, and then we'd zip to the 10 p.m. show, or if it was on the weekends, it was midnight," Mr. Commons said yesterday from his Alexandria home.

On Monday, Cpl. Commons took part in his last covert mission trying to rescue a fellow Army Ranger who had been captured by al Qaeda soldiers in Operation Anaconda.

"That's what makes me most proud, I guess," Mr. Commons said. "That was Matt."

Patricia Marek, Cpl. Commons' mother, agreed. She said that a few weeks ago, she saw "Black Hawk Down," the current box-office hit movie depicting the rescue of American soldiers during the Somalia campaign, and it made her think of her son.

"I hate how people ask me how I feel," she said, referring to the endless stream of callers and well-wishers who have contacted the family since Monday. "I ask them how they would feel if they lost their son? I am very sad … but I am also so proud of him being a Ranger. I am just filled with pride."

Cpl. Commons last spoke with his parents on Feb. 26. They did not know exactly where he was located, but figured he was in Afghanistan. Mrs. Marek said her son sounded "preoccupied" at the time, but otherwise was in good spirits.

For parents who are dealing with the worst kind of tragedy the death of a child Mr. Commons and Mrs. Marek remain remarkably composed and are finding strength in their faith and thoughts of their son.

"As a Catholic, I was taught to forgive … this is hard, but I have to remain strong for Matthew and for my family here now. They need me too," Mr. Commons said.

Cpl. Commons was a faith-filled man himself. Since the Army does not allow religious medals or chains, he was not permitted to wear a cross his grandmother had given him, Mrs. Marek said. So he had a large cross tattooed on his back, with "Jesus" inscribed in Hebrew.

Cpl. Commons, whose parents divorced in 1986 but remained close, spent his school year in Nevada with his mother, and summers and holidays in Alexandria with his father. He graduated from Boulder City High School with honors in 1999 and attended the University of Nevada for a year, eventually dropping out.

"When he told me this, he said he wanted to come and live with me," Mr. Commons recalled. "I told him he would be on the 19-60 plan if he did that. He was 19 years old and he had 60 days to find a job. He came back and told me he had a job he had joined the Army."

Cpl. Commons was a third-generation military man. Both his grandfathers served in World War II, and his father was a Marine in Vietnam. He had hoped to follow in his father's footsteps again by becoming a high school history teacher after his tour was completed, Mr. Commons said.

The Commons home is filled with books, including "Peacekeeping 1919" and "Politics of the Middle East." Cpl. Commons loved to read, something his father credits Mrs. Marek with instilling in him at a young age. One of his favorite authors was Tom Clancy.

"The first time I gave him a Tom Clancy book, it had something like 692 pages, and he looked at me as if I were crazy," Mr. Commons said. "Then he read the first chapter, and was hooked."

The young soldier's family said he was a quiet Renaissance man, who loved to play golf and soccer, as well as sing and dance. But most importantly, they remember Cpl. Commons loved to share.

"He would always let me listen to his CDs," said his youngest brother, Thomas, 7.

"While he was home over the summer, he would always cut the grass of our older neighbor, who is unable to cut it himself, and never wanted to take money for it," Mr. Commons recalled. "I finally had to tell him, if [the neighbor] tells you three times to take it, just take it."

Mrs. Marek recalled how her son would help out with her father, who at 81 is suffering from Parkinson's disease and needs assistance.

"I could ask him to do anything," she said. "Like most kids, he would complain once in a while, but he always did it, and he always did it well."

For a long time, the only other child in Matthew's life was brother Aaron, who is two years younger. As a result, he was always surrounded by adults and was well-spoken, his family said.

Linda Chapman, who married Mr. Commons in 1990, said the first time her family met young Matthew they were amazed that the then-10-year-old was so mature.

"They were all so impressed how he would join in the conversations," she said. "He was not afraid to speak up or give his opinions."

Mrs. Marek and Mr. Commons said this extended to them as parents as well. Cpl. Commons would often make them think twice when he would call them to task on various issues.

Cpl. Commons' remains were flown back to Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Wednesday. He will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery later this month.

The pride the family feels about Cpl. Commons' service, honorable death and burial at the nation's most famous cemetery, however, does not take away from the pain they are suffering.

"I prayed to Jesus, 'He's wearing your cross, please take care of him,'" Mrs. Marek said, wiping away tears. "I am not sure he answered my prayers. But have you ever read about Narnia [C.S. Lewis' popular children's books about fantasy]? Well, my feeling is he has gone through the cupboard door [to a better life], and that helps me. He was my best friend, along with Aaron, and we could always talk about anything. And he gave the best hugs. Those are the things I will miss the most."

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