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Family grieves for Cumming soldier killed in Afghanistan

POSTED: July 23, 2008 5:01 a.m.
/The Associated Press

Army Cpl. Matthew Phillips

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CUMMING — A Northeast Georgia father who was anxiously awaiting his 27-year-old son’s imminent return home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan now is trying to cope with his death.

U.S. Army Cpl. Matthew Phillips of Cumming was among nine American soldiers killed in action Sunday during a three-hour battle with Taliban militants at a remote base in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

"Matt was proud to be in Afghanistan. He felt that that’s where the evil really was. That people like those who attacked us in 2001 were there," said his father, Michael Phillips. Along with Matthew’s widow, sister, two stepbrothers and stepmother, Michael Phillips now struggles with the devastating loss. Matthew Phillips was only weeks from completing his 15-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"We were all just counting down the days, literally. It was his last mission and that’s probably the most painful part of it, we thought we had him. The loss is just devastating to our family and to our friends," Michael Phillips said. He and his wife, Ellen, were in San Antonio, Texas, for the birth of their first grandchild when the family received the news.

Mary Nix, Matthew Phillips’ younger sister, went into labor while the family was visiting for the weekend. Though she had to undergo an emergency Caesarean, mother and baby are doing fine, Phillips said.

"The baby’s heart rate stopped and it was very scary for a few minutes, but eventually the baby was fine and Mary was fine and all we talked about was that we needed to hear from Matthew," Phillips said.

"The next morning, we were aware of some heavy casualties in Afghanistan. We were at the hospital, I was watching the news and Ellen came and told me the hospital chaplain was looking for me. I think we knew what had probably happened," he said.

Phillips said the hardest thing he’s ever had to do was to tell his daughter that her brother had died.

"He and his sister had a very special bond that was only intensified when their mother passed away," he said, recounting the tragic loss of Mary and Matthew’s mother to cancer in 2003.

"We’re numb. We’ve tried to deal with it. Fortunately I’ve had a grandson to focus on for the past few days and it’s cathartic to be able to hold him. That helps," Phillips said.

Phillips said his son was anxious to be an uncle and was ready to complete his enlistment in the Army and return home to begin his own family with his wife of two years, Eve.

"Matt met Eve Lamb of northern Forsyth County and they fell in love. She swept him off his feet, and I think he swept her off her feet. When Matt was with Eve, he behaved differently than any other time that I’ve seen him in his life. He was so caring and sensitive (to her). He just doted on her and it was comical to see almost because Matt had such a strong personality," Phillips said.

"He never really got a chance to live the American dream, to do the things that he was protecting back home. To raise kids, to be a Little League coach, to do the things that make our lives so special, and it just breaks my heart; but that’s what he was looking forward to ... coming back home to her and starting his life with his wife who he loved very much."

Matthew Phillips’ younger sister, Mary, has named her newborn son Matthew Andrew Nix in honor of her older brother.

Matthew’s bravery and sense of patriotic duty also live on in the hearts of his stepbrothers, Daniel and Michael, said Michael Phillips.

"Dan decided to go into the military after college. Michael is in the Indiana National Guard and is going to college in Indiana," Phillips said. "You look in their eyes and there’s not one speck of fear. They know that this is the right thing to do, and it’s an honorable thing to do."

Phillips said he is overwhelmed by the support and gratitude of people in the community.

"We’re just honored. The support has been unbelievable, and we are so appreciative," he said.

"Matt was a great guy. He was a wonderful kid and a great son. Everyone liked him ... he just had a tremendous amount of charm and ability. It’s just a terrible loss, but we realize we’re not the only family that is in pain right now, and we just hope that the sacrifice that Matt made is going to have an impact over there, and I think it is."

Matthew Phillips was one of three Georgians killed in the attack.

The other two North Georgians killed were Cpl. Jon Ayers of Snellville and Master Sgt. Mitchell Young of Jonesboro.

Ingram Funeral Home will be in charge of the arrangements, which are still incomplete at this time.


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