Iowa State Memorial Union

Matthew Anderson - Specialist Four

Rank: Specialist Four
Date Of Birth: : Apr 16, 1972
Date Of Death: Sep 25, 1993
War / Conflict: Somalia
Hometown: Chariton, Iowa
Gold Star Hall - Wall Location: Southeast Wall (Bottom Portion)
Service Ribbons Awarded:
  • Air Medal with V (for valor) (Somalia)
  • Purple Heart
  • UN Campaign Medal for Service (Somalia)

Biography

Matthew Keith Anderson was born April 16, 1972 to Joyce and Keith Anderson in Chariton, Iowa. He grew up with two brothers in nearby Lucas, a small town of about 250 people.

Matt had a wonderful imagination that could make something out of nothing. He was very creative and loved to read about everything.  When he was young he would put on magic shows and puppet shows for his family. 

He started playing the cornet when he was in 5th grade.  By the time he was in high school he no longer wanted to be in band but he still played his horn.  Later he taught himself to play the guitar.  He liked music from hard rock to Beethoven. 

He loved to look at Cartoon magazines and would freehand draw the things he saw there that appealed to him.  He even made a cartoon character out of the Volkswagen that he drove while he was a student at Iowa State.  He had a keen interest in the soldiers in Viet Nam that were called tunnel rats.  He would draw their “RATS” on everything. 

He was always extremely shy around people and hated to have his picture taken.  People sometimes mistook that shyness for indifference, but he was just awkward around people – possibly one reason that he took to drawing and writing.

Matt was an avid reader.  He liked science fiction but he also read about serious things.  He had a copy of the constitution on his wall at home.  He was fantastic at knowing all the trivia questions a person could come up with.  If you wanted to know the answer to something you could just ask Matt.  He seemed to retain every piece of information he read.  While in high school he participated in the now defunct Chariton High Academiathon.  His team got first place both years he participated. 

Matt’s high school math teacher remembers Matt as being, “very intelligent and a deep thinker. He liked to be challenged and he liked to challenge me.”  His English teacher saw his talent for writing and encouraged him.  He would write short stories from his odd perspective for the high school page of the Chariton Newspaper. 

After graduating from Chariton High School in 1990, he decided to go to Iowa State and -- surprising everyone – declared a major in electrical engineering. 

Before his sophomore year was up he gave up engineering, deciding definitely that he wanted to write.  He knew he needed to write about the things he knew – so to gain knowledge, he figured he would need to experience life first hand. He thought the least expensive way to do that was to join the military.  His ISU freshman year roommate, Chris Taylor, recalled that he was excited about the Army and dedicated to the idea of service.

He came home in May of 1992 and left for boot camp a week later.  That was the first his family knew that he had left school and enlisted.  He went to Fort Benning, GA for both his basic training and his AIT.  He was then sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky where he was assigned to B Company, 9th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment.

Specialist 4 Anderson departed from Fort Campbell for Somalia in mid-August 1993 as part of Operation Restore Hope, a UN peacekeeping mission. His family traveled to see him in Kentucky before he left. 

He was a marksman in the infantry so in Somalia he became the door-gunner on a Blackhawk helicopter. Operation Restore Hope was intended to protect starving civilians from aggressive Somalian warlords.  

On September 25th, 1993, while flying on a night reconnaissance mission over Mogadishu, Somalia’s capitol city, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired from a roof top.  It went through the open side door of the helicopter and exploded, killing Matthew and two other soldiers in the back.  The pilot and co-pilot survived with burns in the first helicopter downed in the 10-month mission.   Matt was 21 years old.  

At exactly the same time that Matt entered the Army, a young man named Thomas Romano joined up too, and their service careers were intertwined. Both went through training together and joined the same company. Both were door gunners, and roommates.

Romano said, “The thing we miss most about Matt are the witty comments he had for everything. He was very laid back. His answer to any problem was, “Don’t worry about it, man.”

When he wasn’t working or playing practical jokes on his colleagues, Matthew would write.

Another soldier said, “He had a really weird sense of humor. He’d write off-the-wall stories and read them to us for something to do.” He wrote poetry and fiction – especially science-fiction.

Roommate Romano had one final link to Matt on September 25. He said, “I was supposed to take a break that night, but Matt was tired and I told him, “Hey - I’m up, why don’t you let me go for you?” But Matt’s commitment to the mission overcame his fatigue. He wouldn’t let me take it. It could have been me instead of him.”

Among the awards Matt received were the Dag Hammarskjold Medal from the United Nations as well as the National Defense Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and Purple Heart.

The citation for the Air Medal with V device for heroism in aerial flight stated that Matt “served as a door gunner for numerous highly dangerous missions in Mogadishu without reservation and with great distinction.”

The soldiers who died in Somalia are remembered on a monument at Arlington National Cemetery, and the names of Matthew and his fellow door gunner are on a monument at Fort Campbell.  The citizens of Matt’s home town of Lucas have also built a memorial and raised a flagpole in his honor.  

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