Sunday, October 29, 2006


This weekend I was briefly interviewed by a Newsweek reporter (Sarah Childress) working on a story about my Uncle Robert.

Newsweek compiled a series of his letters to show a progression of his feelings while in Iraq. The article will appear in this week's issue, but it is now available on the Newsweek website.

This is the E-mail I sent back to the first reporter (Sam Seibert) that contacted me about this story.

Thank you Sam.

I would try to describe him to you, but I don't know that I could properly do him justice.

All I can say is that he was like a comic book character. He was a real life Clark Kent. He was the ultimate Marine who they called "The Machine". He could easily throw off several attackers. However, he was also often shy, fiercely intelligent and decent. He personified the words "Honor", "Integrity" and "Kindness".

One story that Robert and I shared was this one:

In one of his E-mailed letters, he talked about his love for the Roman Army. Before going into battle the soldiers would strike their armor and yell "Integritas" (which I believe means integrity). This would suggest that their armor would protect them in battle. After hearing this story, I went out and had BDU patches made up with the word "Integritas" on them. I sent them to him in my first care package to him. He told me in a return letter that he would stitch them on his vest and/or flak Jacket. In the weeks after that, I always looked to at the pictures sent back to see if he had sewn in on his uniform. Picture after picture came in and no sign of them. I thought that perhaps the other Marines had ribbed him about them, or it was against regulations ... or perhaps he was too polite to tell me he didn't want to wear them. After a while I assumed that one of these was true.

Then I went to his funeral a few weeks ago and dozens of pictures of Robert were laid out on a table for the family to share. I looked through all of them to remind me of this amazing guy and to my surprise, something in the last one caught my eye. It was a photo that the local paper had used cropped on their cover. It was of Robert sitting reading a compass and smiling at the camera. The local paper dubbed him "The Smiling Soldier". At his side was his helmet turned upside down. When I turned the photo over I could see the patch clearly. He had sewn it on his helmet. This moment was bittersweet for me. He had indeed sewn one of the patches on his armor ... but it was his helmet which in the end did not protect him.

The last of the three "Integritas" patches I had kept here in NYC, and I brought it to Memphis and laid it on his coffin when I said goodbye. The type of integrity that Robert had could never be destroyed by a sniper's bullet or and IED. That type of integrity lives forever.

I will miss Robert more than I can properly express in words. He was the finest man I have ever known. I only wish that all these fine soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan were being led by men of similar quality.

All my best to you Sam. Thank you for writing this story.


Peter Matthes


Blogger dusty said...

You won't mind if I link to the Newsweek article will you? I belong to many forums and want to put it up on all of them.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Chris L said...

Just wanted to let you know I'm glad you and your family shared your uncle's story with the world. It meant a great deal for me to be able to read another Marine's view on Iraq. My brother is a Corporal with 2/4 Echo who was stationed in Al Ramadi and is going back for a second tour.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very sorry about the loss of Robert. I knew him when we were both at Marion Military Institute. He was always the smart guy and always with a smile. I remember him well. The almuni just know found out and i am very sad that i could not say my goodbye to him. We are truly saddened and he will be missed.
Alex Lopez Marion MIlitary 1992

12:00 AM  

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