By Cpl. Lisette Leyva as told by Julie Francis (Originally published on May 23, 2014)
They say Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, a day to think of those who have lost their lives for this country. Well, in that case, every day is my Memorial Day. I think of Matt everyday — he is everywhere, always.
Matt was a happy, active child. He was always laughing and was so darn funny. He was always moving, coming up with different adventures to go on. His decision to join the Marine Corps did not come as a surprise. He always talked about joining the military. Maybe he was following in his grandfather’s footsteps or maybe this was his calling. Whatever it was, I could not be more proud. He was so driven and I never doubted he would be successful. I could talk about him forever …
Matt deployed to Al Asad, Iraq, with Combat Logistics Battalion 7 in February 2006. He was originally an electronic equipment repair specialist, but volunteered to be a gunner to meet the unit’s needs. Typical Matt. When a family member asked him why he volunteered for something so dangerous, Matt answered like a true Marine.
“There was a need to be filled and I filled it,” he said. “I’m a Marine— it’s what Marines do.”
Twenty days into Matt’s deployment, life as I knew it, had ended. It was a Friday night when I found out. It was on that Friday night that I realized my worst nightmare had come true. I was only home for a few minutes when it came— the knock on the door no one wants to hear. I looked out and saw two Marines standing there.
What are they doing here so late? I thought. Then, it clicked. My boy was gone. My Matt was gone. I remember standing there, listening to the two Marines and watching one try to write something down, his hand trembling with nervousness, fear, pity. They asked if they could come in, but that would make it all too real. I said no. But they stood there, on my porch, and told me my life would never be the same. I didn’t cry or scream or yell. I answered their questions and shut the door. I couldn’t feel a thing. I was cold, numb, devastated. This must be what a broken heart feels like …
Matt was killed in action when his Humvee was in a severe rollover accident while returning from a patrol March 3. The weeks after his death were a blur—making funeral arrangements, waiting for my son to get home from Iraq and trying to gather my thoughts. Eventually, the crowds of people faded and I snapped out of my blur. All my family was left with was a folded flag and the memory of our sweet Matt.
Has the pain gotten better? Yeah. Have the tears begun to dry? Maybe. Have I come to terms with it all? Never. There is no way to ever fully come to terms with the loss of a child. It’s so totally against nature that I honestly don’t know if it will ever be possible. The best thing I can do is carry on his legacy. I can live my life the way we gave his— doing things for others.
I volunteer with Marine Moms Bethesda, an organization that serves luncheons for the wounded warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
My family recently started a non-profit organization in Matt’s honor. The LCpl Matt Snyder Camp Snoops Project was formed to honor Matt’s legacy by promoting education within the schools about Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, patriotism and support of our nation’s heroes.
This is how I will carry it forward. The pain and the loss will never go away — it is as deep now, eight years later, as it was back then. However, I continue on, trying to live in ways that would make my Matt proud and moving forward despite the sadness of doing so without him by my side.
I think about Matt 24/7 and I remember his sacrifice every day. He is never out of my mind and never will be.
Editor’s note: Matthew’s family had to endure one of the most disrespectful events in American history. Westboro Baptist Church leader, Fred Phelps, and his followers protested Matthew’s funeral with signs stating “Matt in Hell” and “Thank God for dead soldiers”.