Thursday, December 02, 2010

Marine Sgt. Matthew T. Abbate

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Sgt. Matthew T. Abbate, 26, of Honolulu, Hawaii

Sgt Abbate was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died Dec. 2, 2010 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

"It's surreal. No one believed it. ... It's something that happens to other people's families," said his half-sister, Valerie Binion, 17, of Fresno. "But I think he'd be glad he died instead of someone else. That's why he did what he did, so someone else didn't have to."

Abbate died of a head wound, Valerie said. No other details about his death were immediately available. He served with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines based in Camp Pendleton.

Friends have posted dozens of comments about Abbate's death on Facebook. Wrote William Cotea, "I always thought Matt would be okay. This is hard. Matt was such a big part of all of our lives ... like everybody's brother."

Valerie, who was nine years younger than Abbate, had heard the family stories about his fascination with the Marines and how he would play Rambo with his G.I. Joe action figures. "He just always figured G.I. Joe was a Marine. He was always running around in boots" playing soldier, she said.

She remembers a brother who would playfully toss his little sisters onto the couch and help them play videos of "Veggie Tales" cartoons.

"He was a fantastic student. He got fantastic grades when he got to us," said principal Lisa Marasco. Abbate graduated with nearly straight A's, she said.

Each senior is asked to write a statement to be read during the graduation ceremony, said Marasco, and Abbate's thanked his family, friends and teachers for his success in school -- and noted that he planned to enlist in the Marines after graduation.

Abbate left home at 18 "to go find himself," his sister said, doing odd jobs, living in Hawaii and working on cruise ships.

By age 22 when he joined the Marines, "it was almost like he'd graduated from college. He'd grown up," Valerie said. Her brother wanted a career in the Marines or possibly the Merchant Marine, she said.

Abbate was on his third deployment, after serving in Iraq and on training assignments in Australia, Okinawa and other locations, according to Lisa Maria Boyles, associate editor of The Bee's opinion pages and a friend of the family. She is acting as a spokesperson for the family.

A few weeks ago, Abbate sustained a minor injury from an improvised explosive device but did not require treatment outside the battle zone, Boyles said.

The 26-year-old sergeant, husband and father who grew up in Piedmont, was killed in the line of duty Thursday in Afghanistan, said his stepmother, Jane Whitfield, who is married to Matt's father, Sal Abbate, owner of Auto On the Go mobile mechanic service.

Abbate lived with his father and stepmother in Piedmont from the age of 4. He attended Beach Elementary School, Piedmont Middle School and spent his freshman year at Piedmont High School before moving to Fresno to live with his mother and stepfather, Karen and James Binion.

He attended Buchanan High School there for three years before graduating from Sierra Charter School in 2002.

After graduation, Abbate moved to Hawaii, where he landed a job on the Norwegian Star cruise ship. He wanted to see the world, and he got his wish, traveling through the Panama Canal and throughout Asia to Thailand, Australia and Fiji, Whitfield said.

But he never gave up his dream to become a Marine, and by age 20 he had joined the Corps. He loved it so much he re-enlisted, Whitfield said. Abbate had already done a 10-month tour of duty in Iraq and spent the past year in sniper training before shipping out for Afghanistan about three months ago, Whitfield said.

They saw him in September, shortly before he left. "I think he really found his place in the Marines," Whitfield said. "He really loved the Marines and found a lot of satisfaction and received a number of honors" and was well-liked and respected among his colleagues, she said.

Whitfield said one of Abbate's most meaningful accolades came from his peers, who voted him the Marine they'd most like to be.

Abbate was a Boy Scout and was athletic, playing football in middle school and his freshman year of high school. Whitfield said Abbate was a good student, but liked to make time for fun.

"He was charismatic and good-looking, and he always had a girlfriend," she recalled. "He was very independent, always doing his own thing. Out of all the kids, he was the least likely to call and say he would be late."

"He was sincere and heartfelt and funny, and a wonderful father," she said. "He really grew into a wonderful young man."

David Sanchez loved Matthew Abbate as if he was his own son. “Anyone would have been proud to call him their son,” said Sanchez. Sanchez added, “He was the most, I would say gracious person the one that always thought of others."

Abbate and Sanchez's son were best friends. Sanchez said he watched Abbate mature from a teenager into a responsible man. “I am feeling like a part of me is gone. I am hoping that this is just a bad dream am I going to wake up,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez said after Abbate graduated high school in California, he moved to Oahu and lived with his family in Aina Haina. He said Abbate fit in with the laid-back island lifestyle. “He loved everything about Hawaii. He loved the surf, the fishing the night life," said Sanchez.

When Abbate expressed interest in joining the Marines, Sanchez said he questioned if it was the right decision. “We had discussions about this, really deep discussions. Is this what you want to do and why do you want to do it?” said Sanchez. Sanchez said abate told him after the events of 9/11, he wanted to defend his country and not let other people do it for him.

Abbate moved back to California to become a Marine. He also married and had a son.

“The last conversation we had I told him your slippers are still by the door so when you coming home and he said, 'Uncle, I'll just show up, just leave them right there,'” said Sanchez.

Abbate is not coming home. On Thursday, the 26-year-old died in combat during his third tour to the Middle East. The Abbate family is planning a private memorial service in California.

Abbate's service awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy and Marine Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon

Marine Sgt. Matthew T. Abbate was killed in action on 12/02/10.

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