As the after-effects of Sept. 11 began to fade into the past, the war in Afghanistan for many was becoming a remote event. That remote event came home this week as seven U.S. soldiers, including one whose father lives in Mount Vernon, died in battle.
PFC Matthew A. Commons was with the 75th Ranger Battalion based at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. He was killed in action as he and five others tried to rescue a soldier killed in another helicopter during battle in Afghanistan this week. Commons had joined the army last July — he had signed up for four years.
Commons had recently turned 21 — his mother, Patricia Marek, sent him a box with hats and banners so he could celebrate with his army buddies. Marek had just moved to this area 10 days before her son’s death. It would be the first time in years that he and his brother, Aaron, would be near their father, Greg Commons, who teaches seventh-grade history at Carl Sandburg Middle School.
Greg lives with his wife, Linda Chapman, in Wellington. He and Marek originally lived in Indiana, where Matthew and his younger brother, Aaron, were born. They divorced after 10 years and Marek moved to Colorado, where Matthew attended elementary school. From there Marek moved to Boulder City, Nevada, with Matthew and Aaron, where Matthew attended high school.
Matthew attended the University of Nevada at Reno for a year and then dropped out to become a Ranger. He had been talking recently about using the G.I. Bill to finish his college education when he finished his four years in the Army.
Greg Commons said that although it was hard to be apart from his sons, it made him be a better father. “Although I didn’t see them on a daily basis, I had them for weeks at a time and had to be a full-time father then. I matured to be the father that I am.”
While the boys were young, Greg was a single father — he married Linda Chapman, an administrative law judge with the Department of Labor, in 1990. Greg and Linda have two sons, Thomas attends Waynewood Elementary School and Patrick is at Stratford Landing Elementary School. Matthew’s younger brother, Aaron, is a freshman at the University of Northern Colorado and flew home on Tuesday to be with the rest of the family in Mount Vernon.
With an expanded family, Greg still made sure that his son’s visits were very special. The younger boys enjoyed it when their older brothers visited, but one of the things that Greg said that the three of them enjoyed was going to the late night movies. After the younger boys went to bed, they would sneak out to see a show.
Military battle is not new to the Commons family. Greg’s father fought in World War II and Greg was an Embassy Guard with the Marines during the Vietnam War.
Greg said that when an army representative knocked on his door Monday night at 11:30 p.m., he hoped that they were there to tell him that his son was critically wounded. That was not so, they were there to report that he was mortally wounded. Greg and Linda are members of Good Shepherd Catholic Church, and Greg said, “Ann and Gary Smith used to sit in front of us every week. When Gary died, I felt such a loss for them, but now I really know what she’s going through.”
Greg spoke to his son the Tuesday before he was killed. He didn’t know exactly where he was, but told him that he loved him.
“I’m proud of my son and proud of what he did for his country,” said Greg.
Services will be held Monday morning, March 11, at 10:30 at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 8710 Mt. Vernon Hwy. Internment will follow that same day at Arlington Cemetery at 1 p.m.