MATTHEW THOMAS ABBATE
POSTHUMOUS NAVY CROSS OK'D
Excerpts from article published in San Diego Union-Tribune on June 15, 2012:
A Camp Pendleton Marine killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010 has been approved for a posthumous Navy Cross, the second-highest medal for valor in combat. SGT Matthew Abbate, a 26-year-old scout sniper, was fatally wounded on December 2, 2010, in the Sangin district of Helmand province amid a coalition airstrike and enemy attack. Two months before he died, Abbate's actions on the battlefield during an ambush that wounded several Marines would eventually garner him the Navy Cross.
On October 14, 2010, just after his battalion arrived in the hard-fought Sangin River Valley, Abbate and his sniper section set out on foot patrol with a squad of Marines through the green zone of orchards and fields. Insurgents fired on them from well-prepared positions, trying to lure them into a minefield. Two Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman were blasted by improvised explosive devices. With the squad leader incapacitated, and the rest of the squad either wounded or disorientated, SGT Abbate took command, said the citation signed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on behalf of the President. With total disregard for his own life, he sprinted forward through the minefield to draw enemy fire and rally the dazed survivors. While fearlessly firing at the enemy from his exposed position, he directed the fires of his Marines until they effectively suppressed the enemy, allowing lifesaving aid to be rendered to the casualties. As Abbate coordinated the medical evacuation and searched for more bombs, the Marines were attacked again. Realizing that the casualties would die unless rapidly evacuated, SGT Abbate once again bravely exposed himself to enemy fire and led a counterattack that cleared the enemy from the landing zone, enabling the helicopters to evacuate the wounded, the citation said.
Abbate was fatally wounded after a patrol of Marines pinned down by an enemy attack called in a danger close airstrike. His death was investigated as a possible friendly fire incident to determine whether it was shrapnel from two 500-pound bombs dropped near his position or enemy gunfire that caused his fatal head and shoulder wounds. An inquiry completed last year concluded it was likely a combination of fragmentation from a coalition bomb and the sympathetic detonation of enemy explosives in the area that caused his death. A final determination was pending an Armed Forces Medical Examiner report. The Marines crouched with Abbate that morning behind a low dirt berm were startled by the second bomb, which seemed to land about 500 feet away, said one who was present. After yelling at the others to Get Down! Abbate may have put his own head up too soon so he could spot enemy fighters fleeing the impact area, according to Marines who were present. Abbate's stepfather said he considers the incident a tragic accident, and one probably befitting of his son's brave, impatient nature. A fellow SGT who served with Abbate in Sangin said, How do we win this war without him? Abbate was revered as the ultimate Marine, physically unstoppable, relentless, courageous and caring of his brothers-in-arms. He was a born fighter with a magnetic personality and movie-star looks. His voice-mail message said: Sorry I can't come to the phone right now, but I'm on adventures. With guns. A Marine who knew him said, Some guys have the heart, but they don't have the ability. Or they have the ability but not the heart. He was the whole package. And he was humble about it. A Marine veteran who was beside Abate the day he died said, The guy had everything going for him. He was strong. He was a good-looking dude. But his sense of duty to his country and to his brothers trumped everything. He was completely selfless when it came down to it. He was just a warrior and a patriot. It didn't matter if he never got an award. He was always going to go out and do his best and be completely fearless on the battlefield at all times.
Abbate's mother said her son did not speak much of his combat tours. It wasn't until after he died that she learned how respected he was by his peers. I'm incredibly proud of him. I don't know if proud is the word. But I am so impressed to know who he was, she said. But Matt saved more people than I think he killed. He made things safer for people that were there, she said. Abbate was known by family and friends as a wild child. As a Marine he was meritoriously promoted several times and punished several times for brawling and other indiscretions. He was the worst teenager I have ever known, and he was the best man I've ever known, his stepfather said. His parents tried to talk him out of re-enlisting, but Abbate's attitude was If I die, I die.
Being a Marine, that's the only thing I've ever been good at, he said.
A Navy representative reported that the posthumous medal will be awarded within the next six months.
Submitted by CDR Roy A. Mosteller, USNR (Ret)