|From The Oregonian oregonlive.com
Marine Cpl. Lembke's body is returned to Oregon
Posted by Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian July 18, 2009 10:25AM
Ross William Hamilton/The OregonianMarine Cpl. Matthew Lembke returned to Oregon on Thursday night, six days after he died at Bethesda Naval Hospital from wounds he sustained in a June bombing in Afghanistan. His parents, Claudia and Dale Lembke of Tualatin and their daughter Carolyn Lembke (right) of Sherwood met his casket at the Hillsboro Airport. About 120 family, friends, military and members of the Patriot Guard riders escorted the body to the Wilsonville funeral home.
Forty-eight flags snapped at the Hillsboro Airport as Claudia Lembke waited for the small military charter to arrive.
She waited, as she had since an IED exploded in southern Afghanistan June 22. Waited as her son Marine Cpl. Matthew Lembke was airlifted to Germany, days later flown on to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where she waited for weeks at his bedside.
Time enough for friends to launch a Web page, trust fund and Facebook group, to unfurl the prayer chains and imagine the success story: a Marine who lost both legs, whose heart and breathing stopped and was restarted, a man who hung on.
But he died of complications July 10 with both parents and sister Carolyn beside him.
On Thursday, Claudia waited for her husband, Dale, to bring him home.
Matt, 22, is the 131st military member with ties to Oregon to die as a result of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the second Oregonian to die in Afghanistan this year, one of 47 international troops to die in July, the deadliest month since 2001.
Until February, most of those killed in action returned home unseen. That month, Defense Sec. Robert Gates lifted a blanket ban on news coverage of the ceremonial returns. Dick Cheney banned the coverage while secretary of defense before the 1991 Gulf War.
The Lembke family allowed The Oregonian to attend Matt's homecoming.
A long, leathery line of Patriot Guard Riders stood at attention outside Hillsboro Aviation, raising American and Marine flags. As the hours passed, Matt's youngest cousins began to play, twirling past on the tarmac. His aunts stood with their arms around Claudia. His uncles watched the pinkening sky for the plane.
Matt was a well known in Tualatin, but his death created a much wider outpouring of grief and support.
"Though I'm a total stranger, I'm praying for your family," wrote one woman from Hawaii.
"I did not meet your son but he served with mine," wrote another.
"I couldn't believe it," wrote a fellow Marine of hearing the news. "He was such a tough kid."
Retired Col. Don Holden, who served during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and whose grandson served in Iraq, wrote: "Tom Brokaw has hyped the WWII generation as the Greatest Generation. We never asked for that acclaim, and I would tell Matt, as I did my grandson, that they faced challenges we never faced and are just as great."
Army Reserve Sgt. Rian Dickerson, whose unit saw 90 straight days of combat in Sadr City, Iraq, in 2004-2005, had been at the Oregon Coast training last week when he saw people poring over a newspaper story at Fred Meyer. He and "Lumpe," as a football coach dubbed Matt, were friends from Tualatin High. Dickerson donned his uniform and drove to the airport to support Matt's sister.
Marine Cpl. Brian Carney, 20, flew home from Camp Pendleton and waited in his dress blues along with the Carney family, for the plane. The 6-foot-4 Carney was joined the Marines in part because of Matt, who gave him no advice for boot camp.
"He told me with a big grin that it would be best if I figure it out myself," Carney said.
"He was right."
The sky turned midnight blue as the rows of family and friends turned silent. To break the tension, an uncle announced, "Group hug," and Claudia's siblings, the Creedens, surrounded her until she laughed. Her five brothers and two sisters stayed close to Matt through the years at the "Creeden-fest" reunions in Michigan.
Finally, just at sunset, a Kalitta Air charter jet that transports U.S. military dead landed, and rolled to a stop.
A large door behind the cockpit opened, a metal ladder dropped. Dale Lembke climbed down. He had remained with Matt in Maryland until the Marines could arrange transport home. The crewman clicked a ramp and support platform into place. Claudia and Carolyn rushed to Dale and the family embraced. The flag-drapped coffin slid forward.
In high school, Matt and Carolyn Lempke had a long running fight over which sport was tougher -- his, football, or hers, dance. They never settled it, but, Carolyn said, "We became friends."
He had somehow reached a phone in Afghanistan on June 12 to wish Carolyn a happy 25th birthday. He left a message on her voicemail. She was at work.
This September would have been Matt's last month in the Marine Corps, where he had already served two tours in Iraq. But he extended his service so he could deploy with his platoon. Matt was patrolling as a sniper in a Taliban power center called Now Zad when he stepped on an IED.
Claudia grasped her husband's and daughter's hands as an honor guard from the Marine's 6th Engineer Support Battalion in Portland saluted. They took nine steps toward the coffin. Carried it smoothly across the tarmac, sliding it into a waiting black hearse.
At that point, Matt's youngest cousins broke from their parents then, running to Dale Lembke, chirping, "Group hug!"
Cpl. Brian Carney turned and found his father, Dave, and clutched him in his arms.
Then with a sharp whistle, 14 motorcycle officers from Washington County, Hillsboro and Portland, led the volunteeer Patriot Riders and the hearse. A motorcade of Tualatin police, family and friends followed. Officers blocked all other traffic on Highways 26 and 217, and Interstate 5 as they proceeded to the funeral home. At nearly every overpass, fire engines were parked, lights flashing in salute.
The wind rose and the last flag of the last truck in the procession rounded the corner with a snap. It said, "Support our troops."