Oregon Marine Sgt. Matthew J. DeYoung of Talent rarely had time during his deployment in Afghanistan to talk with his family at leisure.
But 13 days before his death Friday from an improvised explosive device in southwest Afghanistan's Helmand province, DeYoung spent a day with his family members over the phone.
"He called me three times that day," said his sister, Mandi DeYoung, 24, of White City. "That was the most we'd gotten to talk to him."
Sgt. DeYoung, 26, of the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., died Friday in the arms of his best friend, Sgt. Lee Harris of Medford, after DeYoung stepped on an IED during combat in Afghanistan. Although both men are from Southern Oregon, they didn't know each other until 2005 when they both were stationed at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base near San Diego, said DeYoung's 24-year-old widow, Aisha.
They were part of a group of about 20 friends who called themselves the "Band of Pirates" and included about 15 Marines and five wives, Aisha said. All of them met at Camp Pendleton while they were stationed there and had endured the ordeal of multiple deployments. Many of them had children around the same time that DeYoung and Aisha had their daughter, McKenzy, now 3.
The IED that killed DeYoung was the second the Marine had encountered during his deployment in Afghanistan, which began last November. The first run-in in January had given him a concussion. He had spent more than two weeks recovering at the military hospital at Camp Leatherneck in the forbidding Afghan desert and was about to rejoin his fellow Marines Feb. 5 when his military flight was canceled. The wait for the next flight gave him and his family precious time to connect over the phone.
He expressed impatience to reunite with his comrades on the battlefield, said his mother, Teddi DeYoung of Phoenix.
"He said, 'They're going to give me crap because I'm taking showers and eating candy bars,'" recalled Mandi. "He felt guilty. That's how he was."
DeYoung's phone calls home never included talking about his own hardships and fears in Afghanistan, Teddi said. His worries centered on making sure everyone at home was taken care of, she said.
"He was there for anybody," Teddi said. "He was so unselfish."
He would remind his 17-year-old sister, Taylor, of Phoenix to change the oil in her car or instruct Mandi on how to make a baby bottle for her 5-week-old daughter, Adelyn Wilkins. He would encourage his 19-year-old brother, Bryce of Klamath Falls, to keep plugging away at work.
"The world needs to know we lost a great Marine, a great son, husband, father and brother," said his father, Bruce DeYoung of Ivyland, Pa.
Mandi desperately wanted DeYoung to be in Southern Oregon for Adelyn's birth. DeYoung couldn't make the event in person, so he kept a constant presence on the phone, even talking to Mandi as she screamed from labor pains.
"'I haven't heard a scream that loud since (Mandi) slid down the banister and got slivers in her butt,'" Teddi recalled DeYoung saying.
Bruce said DeYoung never hung up the phone without saying, "I love you."
"Even if we got disconnected, we would call back to say, 'I love you,'" Bruce said. "That was a family rule."
In addition to a lively sense of humor, DeYoung was known for having a can-do attitude and a remarkable dichotomy of impeccable feminine taste combined with fearless masculinity.
"He was a guy who could go to a MAC counter and buy his wife and sisters makeup and get the perfect makeup and come back and get Bryce and go to target practice and come back, make a baby bottle and then run across the street and change a tire for a neighbor," Teddi said. He loved the outdoors and was a wrestling champion during high school.
Coincidentally, DeYoung's parents met at the military base at Camp Lejeune where DeYoung was stationed during his deployment in Afghanistan. His father was a Marine, and his mother was in the hospital corps.
"He was a Marine from Day 1," Teddi said of her son. "When he was a kid, he would run around with a plastic snake around his head and play Rambo."
DeYoung attended high school in Gilchrist and Phoenix, graduating from Phoenix High School. He joined the Marines in August 2005 shortly before his December marriage to Aisha.
He was first deployed to Iraq as a military policeman from February to August 2006. Then from August 2007 to March 2008, he was sent to Iraq as part of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39. In 2009, he re-enlisted in the Marines and trained for six months to do reconnaissance.
During his career, he earned more than a dozen military honors: Purple Heart with a gold star, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Good Conduct Medal with a bronze star, National Defence Ribbon, Afghan Campaign with a bronze star, Iraq Campaign with two bronze stars, Global War on Terrorism, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with two bronze stars, NATO Isaf-Afghanistan award, Navy/Marine Corps Parachute Insignia, Rival Expert 4th Award and Pistol Expert Award.
DeYoung's body will arrive in Southern Oregon from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware later this week.
"My son is coming home, but he won't be walking up to me," Teddi said.
She said her son believed in the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. She wants the United States to end the wars and withdraw the troops.
"It's been nine years (since the war in Afghanistan began), and what impact has it had?" Teddi said. "We are losing our sons and our daughters."
DeYoung's memorial and funeral will be held Saturday. The memorial begins at noon at Central Medford High School (formerly South Medford High School), 815 S. Oakdale Ave. The funeral service is at 3 p.m. at the Eagle Point National Cemetery, 2763 Riley Road, Eagle Point. Both ceremonies are open to the public.
Paris Achen is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4459 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.