By Samantha L. Quigley
MOUNT LAUREL, N.J., July 14, 2006 – Sharon Serio said her son, Matt, was a lot like her. Both middle children, they liked to go out and have a good time. "We got along great together, him and I," the Rhode Island woman said. "(I'll miss) his phone calls." Assigned to 3rd Platoon, Company C, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Division, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Kenneth Serio's last contact with his mother was April 4, 2004. He was killed the next day while on patrol in Fallujah. His Humvee hit a roadside bomb, and insurgents ambushed the Marines inside. "There were four of them killed," Serio said.
"(Matt) got off half his rounds. Two (Marines) didn't get any rounds off." Sharon Serio is an American Gold Star Mother, part of a group of mothers who have lost a child in service to the United States. Sharon said she takes comfort in knowing Matt was doing what he wanted to do. He enlisted in the Marine Corps as a high school senior and was sworn in right after graduation. Boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., was delayed a few days by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But 13 weeks after checking in, he emerged a newly minted Marine "grunt."
"He always wanted to be a Marine," Serio said. "If you were going to be a serviceman, there was nothing else but a Marine, and it had to be a grunt." Shortly after boot camp he found himself on his first tour in Iraq and part of the force that took Baghdad in March 2003. While news about servicemembers was scarce for loved ones back home, Serio was able to keep some tabs on Matt's whereabouts. "I have a son, my oldest, who's in the Navy, and he was actually stationed on the (USS) Kitty Hawk and was in the Gulf," she said. "He knew where his brother was because they were flying support ... for (Matt's unit) off the Kitty Hawk."
Though his mother had a vague idea of where Matt was, she couldn't protect him from a close call. "(Matt) had just given up his seat (in his vehicle) ... and right where his seating area was, is where they got hit by an (improvised explosive device) or whatever it was," Serio said. When he returned to his home base of Camp Pendleton, Calif., in June 2003, his mother was thrilled. Though she knew he was heading home to Rhode Island eventually, she had to see him sooner. Matt's girlfriend heard from him as his unit passed through Germany on its way home.
"I flew out two days later to California," Serio said. "Even though I knew he was coming home after that, I had to make sure there were no holes in him." Serio said she wasn't as concerned for his safety when his unit was called up for a second tour in March 2004. It was supposed to be safer, she said. But, "it was worse," she added quietly.
Matt's funeral included full military honors with burial in a private Catholic cemetery rather than a veterans cemetery. For his mother, that was one thing that was not open for discussion. "I know people say, 'Well, there's other veterans in the cemetery,' and to me that wasn't the same," Serio said. "He wasn't being buried alone." The days that surrounded the funeral were filled with Matt's tight-knit group of friends from high school rallying to support the Serio family, she said.
They told stories of the teenager who ate macaroni and cheese after school and played high school football as one of the "Fat Boys." "They were linemen I guess, and they were just big and they became the Fat Boys," Serio said. "They weren't fat, (but) he was 'Fat Matt.'" She only remembers bits and pieces of the funeral and the days after, she said. Things like the Mass being held in a Providence cathedral because the local church couldn't accommodate everyone wanting to honor the fallen hero, stick out in her mind. So do the construction workers along the funeral procession; many wearing Marine Corps shirts saluted the hearse carrying Matt's remains as it passed. Most importantly, she remembers her son's giving nature.
Matt's last e-mail home, sent the day before his death, included a request for more chewing tobacco, his mother's homemade cookies and candy to hand out to Iraqi children, Serio said. "He always took care of everybody else," she said. Matt's town continues to recognize and honor that selflessness. His high school renamed the football stadium in his honor. The local fire department planted a tree and dedicated a plaque in his honor at a home where the firefighters do charity work. Serio's oldest son is currently on shore duty at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va. Her youngest also has military aspirations that include the Marine Corps, though not directly.
"He doesn't think he could go through the boot camp of the Marine Corps, but he wants to be a (Navy medic) so he could basically take care of Marines," she said. "It stems a lot from what happened to (Matt.)"