|From The Yakima Herald yakima-herald.com
Young Grandview soldier dies in Iraq
By PHIL FEROLITO
GRANDVIEW -- American flags were flown at half-staff throughout the city Wednesday in honor of 20-year-old Army Spc. Matt J. Emerson, who died in Iraq.
Emerson, a 2004 Grandview High School graduate and gunner on a Humvee, died instantly when he was thrown from his vehicle Tuesday during an evening patrol in Mosul, just north of Baghdad, his older brother, Joe Emerson, said by telephone Wednesday.
"I don't know if the vehicle came under fire or not," Joe Emerson said.
Officials with the Department of Defense described the incident as non-combative, but didn't provide any details pending an investigation.
Assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Emerson was the 10th serviceman with ties to the Yakima Valley to die in Iraq.
Funeral arrangements are pending as the family awaits word on when his body will be returned home, his brother said.
A somber mood hovered over this small city of about 8,500 residents Wednesday. American flags at the main entrance of town were flown at half-staff, as were flags at all the schools. A row of American flags lined Wine Country Road through town.
High school officials plan a special gathering honoring Emerson, a former football player, during Friday night's homecoming game.
Students and teachers spent most of the day grieving, said high school football coach Dustin Lamb.
"There are several of us in the grieving stage and there are still quite a few that are in the shock stage," said Lamb, who said Emerson's family is well-known in the community.
Emerson, who was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, always dreamed of serving his country, and joined the Army immediately after graduation. He was deployed to Iraq in November, his brother said.
"Ever since he was a little kid he was always playing with GI Joes, building forts in the yard ... he loved it," he recalled. "That was his calling. We all knew it."
It was tough for the family to see him enlist during a time of war, but they knew that was what he wanted, Joe Emerson said.
"We prayed every night for him," he said. "We knew whatever Matt wanted to do, it was Matt's choice and that it was in God's hands."
Joe Emerson, a student at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., said he last saw his brother in May when he was on leave. He said he picked him up from the airport in Spokane and brought him to Grandview to visit friends and family.
"He loved surprising us when he'd come home because he'd never tell anyone except me because I'd be the one to pick him up," he recalled.
Emerson will always be remembered as a man who loved his family and community, and who could make anyone laugh when the chips were down, his 24-year-old sister, Christine Emerson, said Wednesday before handing the phone to her brother.
"He's my hero," his brother said. "Giving his life for the country -- not only for his family, but for everyone -- and we all love him for that."
Emerson's parents, L.J. and Gina Emerson, weren't available for comment, according to family members who answered the phone at their house.
High school principal Mike Closner regarded Emerson as a strong kid who finished whatever he started.
"He was one of those silent leaders," Closner said. "He had a firm resolve his senior year in wanting to enlist and defend our country. It was definitely his goal ... very dedicated."
Lamb echoed the same sentiments.
He recalled how Emerson began playing football as a skinny but wiry freshmen who by his senior year was a strong starting player at both defensive back and wide receiver.
"A guy that demonstrates what hard work can do," Lamb said. "He was a true success story."
Emerson's jersey will be displayed during Friday's game, and his jersey number, 82, will dot the field in his memory, Lamb said.
A decal in Emerson's memory will be worn on the helmets of Grandview High football players for the remainder of the season, he said.
"As a team and as a school and as a community, we're going to pay some special moments for him after our game," he said. "We're going to ... honor his memory."