U.S. Army Cpl. Matthew Phillips of Cumming was just weeks from completing his 15-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
His father, Michael Phillips of Dawsonville, and family were counting down the days until the 27-year-old soldier returned home.
“It was his last mission and that’s probably the most painful part of it,” Phillips said. “We thought we had him.”
Instead of a reunion, the family is planning a funeral for Saturday after Matthew Phillips was among several soldiers killed in action July 13 during a three-hour battle with Taliban militants at a remote base in the region’s Kunar province.
“Matt was proud to be in Afghanistan,” Michael Phillips said. “He felt that that’s where the evil really was, that people like those who attacked us in 2001 were there.”
The elder Phillips was in San Antonio for the birth of his first grandchild when he received the news.
“The loss is just devastating to our family and to our friends,” he said.
When told at the hospital that the chaplain was looking for him, Phillips said, “I think we knew what had probably happened.”
One day earlier, Mary Nix, the soldier’s younger sister, had a baby boy by emergency C-section.
Phillips said the hardest thing he’s ever had to do was to tell his daughter that her brother was gone.
“He and his sister had a very special bond that was only intensified when their mother passed away [to cancer in 2003],” he said.
Phillips said his son, who attended Johnson High School in Oakwood, was anxious to be an uncle. Instead, the nephew Matthew Phillips won’t get to meet will bear his name.
Matthew Phillips was one of two Georgians killed in the attack. The other was Cpl. Jon Ayers of Snellville.
A third soldier with Georgia ties, Master Sgt. Mitchell Young of Jonesboro, was killed the same week elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Matthew Phillips, his father said, was ready to complete his enlistment in the Army and return home to begin his own family with his wife of two years, Eve, a North Forsyth High School graduate who is now a teacher at her alma mater.
“Matt met Eve Lamb of northern Forsyth County and they fell in love,” he said.
“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. He just doted on her and it was comical to see almost because Matt had such a strong personality.”
He regrets that his son “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.”
His bravery and sense of patriotic duty also will live on in the hearts of his stepbrothers, Daniel and Michael, one of whom is in the military and the other in the Indiana National Guard.
Phillips said he is overwhelmed by the support and gratitude of people in the community.
“We’re just honored,” he said. “The support has been unbelievable and we are so appreciative.”
His family, he said, realizes they’re not the only ones “in pain right now.”
“We just hope that the sacrifice that Matt made is going to have an
impact over there, and I think it is.”
In the meantime, he said, they’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.”
Funeral services will be held Saturday, July 26, 2008, at 1 p.m. at Coal Mountain Baptist Church in north Forsyth. Interment will follow at Coal Mountain Cemetery with full military honors.
The family will receive friends Friday from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m. and from 6:00 until 9:00 p.m. at Ingram Funeral Home.
The community has been asked to help in honoring Cpl. Phillips by displaying flags, banners and lowering existing flags to half-staff.
Those wishing to pay their respects to Phillips and his family on Saturday are being asked to line the roadway along Hwy. 9 from Ingram's Funeral Home to Coal Mountain Baptist Church, no later than 12:25 p.m.
Ingram Funeral Home & Crematory, Cumming, Georgia is in charge of the arrangements.
E-mail Adam C. Stapleton at firstname.lastname@example.org.