USMC Sergeant Matthew T. Abbate, 1984-2010
Hank and I attended the Navy Cross ceremony yesterday for United States Marine Corps Sergeant Matthew T. Abbate, who received our country’s second highest medal for valor in combat as a result of his service in Afgahnistan. Sadly, the award was given posthumously, for six weeks after Sergeant Abbate’s incredible display of heroism that led to the awarding of the Navy Cross, he was killed in action in Helmand Province in December 2010. Matt was only 26, and he was the son of our good friends, Sal Abbate and Jane Whitfield. He is survived by his wife and 4-year old son, Carson. The Marines presented the Navy Cross at Matthew’s home base of Camp Pendleton on Friday, and you can read a press report of that ceremony here.
The San Francisco ceremony allowed family and friends in the Bay Area to gather in honor of Matt. As a military decoration awarded by our government, the Navy Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor, and rarely received, so it’s probably not surprising that Hank and I had never been to a presentation of such an honor. It was a somber, tear-filled occasion. Led by retired Marine Corps Major General James M. (Mike) Myatt, the event was held at the historic and beautiful Marine’s Memorial Club just off Union Square in San Francisco. The Marine Color Guard “posted the colors,” and we were led in the singing of our national anthem, after which many of us were in tears. Maj. Gen. Myatt then read the commanding officer’s “Summary of Action” describing the harrowing events of October 14, 2010, that found scout sniper section leader Sergeant Abbate, his four snipers, two combat engineers, and a squad of Marines ambushed on the banks of a canal alongside a field strewn with IEDs. I encourage you to read the Summary.
The final sentence from the Navy Cross Citation from U.S. Secretary of Navy Ray Mabus says it best: “By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, Sergeant Abbate reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Matt enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2006, and was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. He deployed for the third time in September 2010, to Afghanistan, as a scout sniper with the 3rd Batallion, 5th Marines Division. In the first 90 days of their deployment fighting the Taliban, the 3/5 lost 24 Marines, the highest number of any casualties of any unit since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.
Major General Myatt urged us all to tell the story of Matt’s heroism, as it is a story that needs to be told. I obviously agree with him, and hope you feel the same way after learning about Matt’s service to our country, and his ultimate sacrifice. Maj. Gen. Myatt closed the ceremony by leading a champagne toast to Matthew, quoting the words of General George S. Patton: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” I am thankful that Matt lived, but am angry and sad that he died. My prayers are with Matt’s family.