John Holley remembers what his son told him when he finished jump school at Fort Campbell, Ky.
“‘Now I can put my jump wings with yours, Dad,’” the father recalled. “That’s where they are going to be.”
Spc. Matthew J. Holley, 21, of Post Falls was among four soldiers killed as a result of a bomb detonated near their vehicle during combat operations Nov. 15 in Taji, Iraq, according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.
Holley was 101st Airborne.
“He wanted to be a ‘Screaming Eagle’ just like his dad and uncle,” John Holley said on Thursday from his winter home in San Diego. Between him and his wife, Stacey, and other close relatives, the family estimates it has put in 106 years of military service. In fact, John and Stacey met in the military.
Their only son, a combat medic, was in the Army 19 months, including about four weeks in Iraq, his father said.
“We weren’t excited about him doing a combat role, but it is what he chose to do,” John Holley said. “He told my wife he wanted to serve a cause greater than himself.”
Holley, who was schooled at home and lived in both Post Falls and San Diego, received his high school diploma from the Alpha Omega Home School program. He was a talented graphic artist and wanted to pursue that career. He also was a three-time national Amateur Athletic Union karate champion, who fought as a black belt in his last championship.
That’s something we are very proud of,” his father said.
He described his son as an above-average young man, but “in a lot of ways he was a normal kid.”
“He had his reasons for doing what he did. He wanted adventure. He loved to help others. He loved kids.”
He once asked his parents to send crayons so he could give them to Iraqi children.
Nearly 300 family and friends attended Holley’s “Celebration of Life Ceremony” Dec. 1 at Midway Baptist Church in San Diego or the graveside service with military honors at Glen Abbey Memorial Park on Dec. 2, his father said. Members of the 101st Airborne flew out from Fort Campbell to attend.
There was also a service in Taji at which Holley’s best friend, another combat medic, delivered the eulogy.
“The young man said the love Matthew had for people, even his enemies, was something he couldn’t understand,” John Holley recalled.
Just before Holley’s 21st birthday in September, his father flew out to Kentucky to be with his son before his deployment. They had dinner a few times, and Holley told his father what special equipment he was buying to bring with him.
“The last time I saw him I gave him a big hug and told him I wish I could go with him. He said, ‘Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not going to die.’ “
Spc. Holley was one of at least 2,133 U.S. military personnel who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to a Thursday count by the Associated Press.
“We are not angry at the military,” John Holley said on Thursday. “He made his choice. It’s just like policemen sometimes don’t come home from work.”
His son, he said, didn’t come home from work.