Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Matthew Parker, third from left, is surrounded by his family after receiving the Silver Star, the third highest military combat honor, on March 18 at Marine Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Shown, l-r, are Maj. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, Matthew and his wife, Mary Jo, his parents, Deacon Scott Parker and Rosa Montano-Parker, his sister, Sarah Parker-Chappell, and his mother-in-law, Cynthia Toney. His sons, Lucas, left, and Liam, right, are with his niece, Lily-Anna Chappell.

North Carolina

Marine veteran receives Silver Star for combat valor in Afghanistan

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published May 12, 2016

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.—When his platoon commander and another squad leader were injured in an ambush, Marine Sgt. Matthew Parker “boldly assumed control” of the forces around him in Afghanistan, leading an eight-hour struggle and bringing all of them, including the injured, back to safety.

The veteran of multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Parker, now retired, was awarded the Silver Star for his courageous leadership of fellow Marines on May 21, 2011. It is the third highest military decoration and honors valor in combat.

Parker, 33, was serving on a security mission in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan five years ago as a squad leader with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. He is the son of Deacon Scott Parker of St. Mary Magdalene Church, Newnan, and Chancery employee Rosa Montano-Parker.

As the platoon faced enemy fire, Parker took control of two rifle squads, a combined anti-armor team section, a vehicle mobile element and sniper team, according to the citation from the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

He stayed in communication with the patrol base and passed information between the sniper and anti-armor teams. He maneuvered forces and guided the firefight to enable the platoon and its support to destroy two enemy machine gun positions. Amidst continued sporadic fire he medically evacuated the injured on foot to eventually link them to a helicopter and withdrew his force to the patrol base as the food, water and ammunition supplies dwindled.

They found relief from the sweltering heat from an Afghan father and son who came out of their compound to offer bread and water.

“I had to do everything in my power to get everybody back,” Parker said. “We all still talk about it to this day how much that water saved us.”

Cited for his “zealous initiative, courageous actions and exceptional dedication to duty,” Parker received the Silver Star in an outdoor ceremony March 18 at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Friends, family and fellow Marines attended and four companies of Marines stood in formation.

“You represented everything we want to teach in honor, courage, commitment and the warrior’s ethos … and for that I’m greatly indebted to you,” said Maj. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division, according to the official Marines website.

Parker joined the Marines after 9/11, surviving a dozen encounters with improvised explosive devices on a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. He underwent surgeries for foot and leg crush injuries before returning there in 2007. He returned in 2011 for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

He said he was “totally shocked” when he first learned of the recognition he was to receive.

“I always did what I was supposed to do, never tried to do any less than my job. It is what my job entails,” he said in a telephone interview from North Carolina. “I’m humbled more than anything. I guess I’ve always tried to stay humble.”

“I’m not going to say I wasn’t scared, but it wasn’t my first time. I was comfortable. I had trained my Marines to a standard so I expected nothing less. When you are put in a situation like that, at least in my experience, your training really does kick in, and everything you do is second nature.”

“It lasted anywhere from eight to 10 hours from start to finish,” he recalled. “Whether you believe you can or can’t, you have to tell yourself you’re doing it, regardless. Even if I weren’t comfortable with my job, I’d have to be, so my Marines understood I was in command of everything.”

“I prayed a lot for his safe return”

His father, who served in Vietnam, felt “overwhelmed” at the ceremony.

“The amount of honor and respect and love the Marines showed for him, his fellow Marines that were there with him in Afghanistan, many of them showed up for the ceremony. They came from all over the country to watch one of their own receive this prestigious award,” Deacon Parker said. “They all talked about Matthew having leadership skills and character and the ability to adapt and overcome in all situations. I guess that training helped him out during many firefights.”

While not a regular churchgoer, Parker’s Catholic faith helped sustain him in Afghanistan and prayers that his mother taught him in childhood brought comfort and clarity. He always wore a St. Michael the Archangel medallion.

“I may not be going to church every weekend, but I still hold my Catholic beliefs and faith,” said Parker.

Married and the father of two sons, he received medical retirement in 2014 and now studies full time at Coastal Carolina University. He applies military sayings such as “inspect, don’t expect” to daily life—even to monitoring his 7-year-old’s homework.

Deacon Parker, who became a Catholic as an adult, said “faith is greatly tested” in such extreme conditions. Just as he returned from Vietnam transformed, Matthew is “more mature, reserved, more watchful. It’s puts you on edge after being in combat.”

Parker expressed concerns to his dad about coming back before he was deployed to Iraq.

“It was a very scary, precarious position to be in. I prayed a lot for his safe return, and my prayers were certainly answered, and I thank the Lord for that. We did have to suffer the loss of many of his friends,” said Deacon Parker.

Parker’s mother also served in the military, as did his older brother and sister.

“I was proud of him. I always knew he had it in him,” said Deacon Parker, a former high school teacher. “Of course, he’d goof off around other kids, but when he was around adults he always tried to do the right thing. He always helped people. He was always this ‘yes ma’am’, no ma’am’ kid. If there was somebody in a wheelchair he would push it.”

Until the award was announced, his son had never mentioned a word to him about the 2011 battle, Deacon Parker said.

At the ceremony he “was very humble about the whole experience” and pointed out that several lance corporals took charge of higher positions while he led the platoon.

“He gave glory to the Marines there with him,” his father said.