color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: This Story Shall the Good Man Teach His Son...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

This Story Shall the Good Man Teach His Son...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005, Fort Benning, GA

Kelly Hill at Fort Benning is the usual home of some of the 3rd Infantry Division.
It is a sprawling complex of buildings and barracks, parking lots and narrow roads usually swimming with thousands of soldiers; but now with the Division deployed to Iraq, this sprawling complex is home to a few Rear Detachment soldiers and dozens of National Guard units in training or preparing to deploy somewhere in the world. It is eerily deserted and quiet.

Just beyond the post office and adjacent to the medical clinic sits the Kelly Hill Chapel. The memorial service for Sergeant Bohling was scheduled to begin at 11:00AM, but we arrive early. The chapel is starkly cool compared to the thick, hot oppressive air so routine in the South ‑‑ brilliant sunshine peaking in through the windows at the top of the brick walls and through the open doors at the back.

At the end of the nave, sitting just in front of the altar steps atop a display box is the all too familiar warrior’s memorial: an inverted rifle, boots at the lowered edge of the bayonet, helmet (kevlar) perched on the top of the weapon’s butt, dog tags hanging from the helmet… the tradition of displaying a soldier’s helmet atop his rifle originated on the battlefield, where they marked the location of the fallen soldier. In front of this memorial is a large portrait of the handsome, smiling
Sgt. Matthew Bohling dressed in the desert camouflage of the war, with sand behind the softly smiling image as far as the eye can see and for as much as the camera can capture. I notice how young he is, the sparkle in his eyes, the tousle to his hair as if he had just run his hand through the short dark brown tufts.

At first there are just a few soldiers present – all from the Division’s Rear Detachment... and Noah, handsomely dressed in his newly cleaned dress uniform, his shoes shined to glass… He’s talking softly in the front few pews with these other soldiers also smartly dressed in their Class A uniforms out of respect for and to honor their fallen comrade.

Soon, Sgt. T arrives. Sgt. T is just home from Iraq on leave to attend the birth of his second child – a boy that should have been born yesterday. He arrives dressed like the others in his dress uniform holding the hand of his very pregnant wife. Although they had greeted each other yesterday in an accidental meeting, Sgt. T and Noah clasp fists and then forearms in the way that brothers do. Later my son would say that they had talked about the time Noah and Matt were put on “AHA duty” – 24 straight hours of guarding ammo -- and how Matt had spent part of the night trying to play some song by ear on his harmonica. Sgt. T was in -- is in -- Sgt. Bohling’s platoon. He was gunning in the vehicle Matt was driving when they hit the IED. He was there with Matt when he died.

A few minutes later, my hobbled son lurches on stiff legs from his pew to warmly greet Sgt. N. who was with Noah that day in late August when the VBIED shattered much of the building they were in. Sgt. N is clearly excited to see Noah – not having heard much news on his condition before the Sgt. departed Iraq for his R&R leave and has been pleasantly surprised by Noah's presence here. The manly embrace is repeated again and Sgt. N, Noah and Mrs. N walk forward to the third pew. After the service, the Sgt. and the Mrs. will depart for their vacation delayed by the desire to attend today’s service.

Over the next few minutes, many military wives unaccompanied by their now deployed spouses enter the chapel, greet each other and take their seats. Soldiers, many with the distinctive striped patch of the 3rd ID on the shoulders of their utilities, arrive and sit closely together. Soldiers from other units around the fort also arrive and join the growing body of soldiers and civilians in the chapel. An organist has arrived and is playing a selection of patriotic songs. I am seated in the almost rear pew – feeling slightly like an interloper in this public yet oh so private service.

Promptly at 11:00AM, the senior officers of the Division not deployed, enter in a line and proceed in a perfectly unisoned march to the front of the chapel and then one by one execute perfect “about face” turns in front of their chairs and as one they are seated. One by one they take to the podium and offer remarks about and prayers for the young
Matt Bohling. The Lt Col., a Captain... speak their own remarks and the remarks of the Company and platoon leaders forwarded from the battlefield -- all telling of the things my son has told me in the preceeding days: what a good soldier Matt was; how Matt loved to play his harmonica. How he spoke so lovingly and exuberantly about his home state of Alaska. How he spoke so endearingly of his family – parents, brother, sister.

A prayer is offered. A soulful performance of Amazing Grace follows by Sgt. D. Then the roll call I dread is upon us. The members of the Company are called to attention and Sgt. T., Sgt. N. and Noah stand sharply with fists unnaturally clenched stiffly at their sides as if holding on to the past, the present, the future… just these three standing among the many assembled. Loudly, Sgt F. standing ramrod straight at the head of the nave stares stone faced out across those in attendance and stridently calls each of the first three names, and each loudly responds their presence.

Then the Sgt. calls out in the quiet of the chapel, “Sgt. Bohling.” There is no response. Louder now, “Sgt. Matthew Bohling.” Again there is no response. Louder still as if this time someone will answer, slowly in a stern barked cadence with a slight pause between each word, “Sgt. Matthew Charles Bohling.” There is only silence in return until the sharp report of the first of three volleys from the rifles shriek through the air from outside the chapel, followed by the ever mournful notes of “Taps” that falter midway as if the bugle or bugler is overcome. The sounds of sniffles and shallow weeping can be heard from all corners of the nearly full chapel. And I think how hard this service must have been on all the Guys of A Co. in the sands of Iraq three days ago when Matt’s other brothers were called to honor and bid farewell to their friend so close to where he had fallen.

The service is concluded. As each pew empties, the civilians turn to the back of the chapel to exit while the soldiers turn out row by row to form an orderly single file to the front of the chapel, each to tap or touch the helmet, boots, dog tags of the fallen hero… to say a final farewell... and I am reminded of the closing words of the St. Crispin’s Day Speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Rest in Peace, Matt… and know that your sacrifice is not unnoticed and that you are not -- and will not be -- forgotten.
Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.
Welcome Blackfive readers.


At 9/15/2005 5:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

God speed, soldier.

At 9/15/2005 5:57 AM , Blogger Stacy said...

I can not imagine what all of those guys, his family and yourself were feeling. I thought about you all so much that morning as I knew that you would be attending the service.

My heart goes out to each and every single one of those guys in his unit.

Thanks for sharing this story with us all.

At 9/15/2005 7:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So eloquently written. It’s a sobering post. My husband is abroad now, I hope I never have to know how you felt that day. Thank you for sharing such a private moment. His family will be in my prayers as will Noah. I’m happy to hear he’s home with you.

At 9/15/2005 8:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I just sit here, not even knowing what to say, but having to say something, anything. Matt's family will be in my prayers and Noah continues to be in my prayers also. I hope that he is recovering quickly.

At 9/15/2005 9:04 AM , Blogger Melinda said...

I hope they publish your blog in a real book someday, SSM. It's posts like this where you so clearly capture the setting, the emotions and the moment that make me so thankful I found you, your site and your "guys".

The Bohling family is in our prayers and I continue to pray for Noah & the rest of the guys as well.

At 9/15/2005 9:04 AM , Blogger Melinda said...

I hope they publish your blog in a real book someday, SSM. It's posts like this where you so clearly capture the setting, the emotions and the moment that make me so thankful I found you, your site and your "guys".

The Bohling family is in our prayers and I continue to pray for Noah & the rest of the guys as well.

At 9/15/2005 10:26 AM , Blogger Kat said... I am at work, just crying my lill eyes out...thank you for this post...

My luv to all,

At 9/15/2005 11:04 AM , Blogger barb pfister said...

This reminds me so much of the viewing we went to for the Soldier who was killed in the ied attack that my daughter was in in April. All of them too young, with their whole lives to look forward to. I cry with you at this time and will continue to pray for Matt's family and for yours.


At 9/15/2005 11:57 AM , Blogger Call Me Grandma said...

What a beautiful tribute to Matt. The tears are falling.
May he rest in peace. My prayers go out to Matt's family and also for Noah. May they find comfort in God's promise.
Good to have you back and thanks for the picture what a handsome soldier.

At 9/15/2005 5:53 PM , Blogger StoicMom said...

I've never been to one of these and I hope I never have to go to one. But thank you for a moving description of what to expect, just in case.

Noah will need a lot of hugs in the coming weeks. He is carrying an old man's burdens already in his young life. May he be a stronger man for it.

Go with God, Sgt. Matthew Charles Bohling.

At 9/16/2005 6:49 AM , Blogger Rachelle Jones said...

Thank you SGT. Bohling

At 9/16/2005 4:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thanks to all these good men and their families. How blessed we are to have them in our American Family. Thank you for sharing this.


At 9/17/2005 7:20 PM , Blogger Politics of a Patriot said...

That post brought tears.

At 9/19/2005 8:58 AM , Blogger Joe said...

Thank you.....for this story, for giving to us your beautiful flower, and for the Shakespeare, the most moving and eloquent words ever written about men in combat.
God bless you, and God bless our greatest nation on earth!

At 9/19/2005 11:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You Sgt. Bohling. God Speed

At 9/19/2005 11:12 PM , Blogger Maggie Goff said...

You and Noah are in my prayers daily. Thank you for the very touching post. What a beautiful young man Matthew was. My heart goes out to his family.

At 2/09/2006 10:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm a very good friend of matt's - he was a great guy, you did get that right. :) he was definitely a one in a million. his funeral up here was well attended - there were cars all the way down the glenn highway, from Ft. Rich to Chugiak - it was amazing - Matt would have loved that. We used to joke that there wasn't enough space in a room for both Matt and his ego :) i'm glad that so many people are remembering and keeping his memory alive. in that way he will always be with us.

peace and love,
becky b, eagle river, alaska

At 2/09/2006 2:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

if anyone would care to see and post stories, memories, and photos of matt online, i have created a myspace page as a sort of happy, loving memorial to him Please visit:

At 4/16/2007 3:06 AM , Blogger Jenn said...

I just ran across this page and I wish I had a long time ago. Matt was one of the most caring friends you could ever ask for. The last time I saw him was December 2004 at the NJROTC alumni party. He was telling me that he was going back over. I asked if he was scared. He said no. That this was his job, this is what he wants to do. He said "If I don't go who is going to defend all of my friends and family" It was a personal mission for him. The last time I talked to him was the night before he went back to Iraq after his R&R and he said, don't cry, it will be what it will be. I was crying cause I wasn't able to see him while he was home. He will never be forgotten. I love and miss you Matt! I am so glad to see that your son Noah is safe and I remember Matt talking about him...


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