Those who knew Marine Lance Cpl. John Mattek Jr. say he gave everything he had to everything he did.A mourning Wisconsin community honored Mattek’s legacy Monday as the man it knew as Johnny was buried with full military honors following a standing-room-only funeral service at St. John Catholic Church in Antigo.The 1,000 mourners who packed the church told only part of the story. As the funeral procession wound its way to St. Wencel’s Cemetery, residents sat sentinel on porches, stood silently waving flags or just paused a moment on the side of Highway 45 to pay their respects. Amid flags flying half-staff, restaurant and gas station signs reading “Our hero – John Mattek Jr.” and other tributes, family and friends prepared to say goodbye. Mattek, a former University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student and 1999 graduate of Antigo High School, died June 13 from injuries suffered June 8 during combat operations in Iraq.
He was 24. When John Mattek Jr. left for Iraq, he left a letter with his family, telling them they’d know when the time was right to read it. If he returned, he said, he expected the letter back unopened. The letter is dated March 3.The flag stands for freedom and I will defend her. No matter what the cause, because the cause is just paperwork for the weak. It’s the buddy to my left and right that will be defended by my hand, my blade, my bullet. I will fear no man, no enemy. I will forego heaven if hell is where the fight is. I have done what I have done and I will do what I will do. At the end of the day God will decide where my soul lay. Upon the arrival of this day there will be peace on the battlefield and at home. Thy shall not mourn my death, but celebrate my life. Because every man dies, but not every man really lives. I have lived …USMC Infantry Lcpl. Mattek, J.J.. But even as his family and community mourned the loss of Mattek, they celebrated the man – and the U.S. Marine – he had been.
Recalling the high school commencement speech her big brother gave in 1999, 18-year-old Jill Mattek told the packed church that “it takes a little more to be a champion.””He never second-guessed anything,” Jill Mattek said. “He joined the Marines to fight (for) a cause, a cause he truly believed in. … He died on the battlefield. Johnny doesn’t want us to mourn today. He wants us to celebrate his life. He had what it took to be a champion.”After Jill Mattek spoke of her brother’s zest for life, Matt Mattek, 16, read the letter Johnny left behind in case he didn’t return. The hand-lettered words that were printed in each funeral bulletin reiterated the Marine’s commitment to cause and country.”Upon the arrival of this day, there will be peace on the battlefield and at home,” Matt Mattek read. “Thy shall not mourn my death, but celebrate my life. Because every man dies. But not every man really lives. I have lived.”As Jill and Matt Mattek returned to their seats, a moment of absolute silence was ended by thunderous applause. Eight Marines escorted Mattek’s flag-draped casket during the funeral, followed during the processional and recessional by his parents, John Sr. and Marsha Mattek, younger siblings Jill and Matt Mattek and oldest sister Katie Devore, her husband, Mike, and son, Bryce.
Five-year-old Bryce, Mattek’s nephew, sat in his grandmother’s arms as mourners filed out from the pews during Communion. Some paused, heads bowed, to lay a hand on the casket. During his homily, the Rev. Jeremiah Worman also recalled Mattek’s speech from high school graduation. At the end of the speech – which was replayed during Sunday’s visitation at the Bradley Funeral Home in Antigo – Mattek had paused to request a moment of silence for those classmates who might not make it to their 10th high school reunion.”Today,” Worman said as he concluded the homily, “let us give that moment of silence.”Everyone did. At Mattek’s graveside, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the honor bestowed upon members of the military wounded or killed in combat. Marsha Mattek accepted the award on her son’s behalf. As the Marines gave their 21-gun salute and the low, sorrowful sound of “Taps” cut through the humid air, the muffled sniffles of mourners became audible sobs. Receiving a folded American flag, Marsha Mattek clutched the banner tightly as the graveside service wound down.Lingering near her brother’s grave as mourners began to disperse, Jill Mattek seemed reluctant to leave. Finally, she blew a kiss, gave a little wave toward the casket and walked away.During the ceremony, Johnny’s little sister had read from his letter home dated May 26.”If ultimate victory can only be gained when I am laid to rest, then I shall sleep well,” the letter said. “And you shall, too.”
The Department of Defense announced on June 143 the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Lance Cpl. John J. Mattek Jr., 24, of Stevens Point, Wis., died June 13 from wounds received as a result of an explosion while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, on June 8. He was assigned to the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team-2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
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Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune — DEERBROOK — The last time Lance Cpl. John J. Mattek Jr. called home from Iraq, he was upbeat, excited – and a little antsy. “He was very frustrated at that time,” said his mother, Marsha Mattek, recalling the May 31 conversation. “He’d been up for 20 hours, working on equipment. And his words were, ‘I can’t wait to get this done and get back out in the field.” To friends and family, that was Johnny. He was the kid who once got a concussion after being told repeatedly not to ride his bike on rock mounds in the family driveway – then doing it anyway. He was the teen who strung a line of rope across the creek running through the Mattek backyard, wanting to pull himself from bank to bank above the shallow water. His father, John Mattek Sr., recalled telling his son that he’d be seriously hurt if he fell. His response? “That’s why I can’t fall in.” He didn’t. And Johnny was the adult who, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, felt so compelled to do something that he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Tuesday, he was the son and brother who brought laughs and tears to the faces of his family as they recalled the life of the 24-year-old Marine at the Matteks’ Deerbrook home. Mattek, a former University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student-athlete and 1999 graduate of Antigo High School, died early Monday of injuries suffered when a roadside bomb exploded during combat operations in Al Anbar Province, Iraq June 8. He’d been in Iraq about three months. “The biggest thing I would like people to know about our son and brother is he truly, in every sense of the word, was an extraordinary young man,” Marsha Mattek said. “The word that always described him was he was the toughest individual I ever met. To me, that also means he was tough mentally, he was tough physically, he was tough emotionally. That’s what made him not only the type of Marine that he was, but individual he was.” But for all his spirit, toughness and determination, his family also remembered Mattek as a kind person, the type who never had a mean word to say about anyone. To his nephew, 5-year-old Bryce Devore, he was “Uncle Maverick” to Bryce’s Iceman. To Marsha Mattek, he was a child who could make her laugh and forget why she ever got mad at him in the first place. To Mattek’s younger siblings, 16-year-old Matt and 18-year-old Jill, he was the older brother who taught them never to give up. Jill Mattek smiled tearfully, recalling the mantra her older brother had taught her. “Good, better, best, never let it rest,” she said. “Until your good is better, until you’re better’s best.” Jill Mattek and older sister Katie Devore, 26, stayed in Deerbrook following Mattek’s injury while John Sr., Marsha and Matt flew to Maryland, where John Mattek Jr. had been taken after being flown from Iraq and then Germany. They were with him when he died. The family hopes to establish a memorial fund in Mattek’s name, the money from which would go to support families like themselves who have to cope with travel and hospital stays when a loved one is injured at war. The support they received while in Maryland was incredible, Marsha Mattek said. Funeral services for Mattek have not yet been set. Back home, reminders of Mattek are everywhere – the Marine flag flying just below the U.S. banner in the front yard, photos of him in the football uniforms of Antigo High School and UWSP. Even 16-year-old Matt’s boxer puppy, Rocket, pays homage to his big brother – the dog was named for the crotch-rocket motorcycle Mattek used to talk about getting. “Anything you look at just reminds you of him, of what he left behind,” Jill Mattek said. But for all the ways Mattek seemed to attract people and excitement, the posthumous attention he’s received wouldn’t be Johnny’s style, said John Mattek, Sr. He attracted attention but never asked for it; no matter what, his son was humble. For better or worse, the family said, it’s some of Mattek’s qualities they’ll miss most that also are helping them to cope with his death. “We’re going to get through this because of what he taught us,” Marsha Mattek said. “Because of how we watched everything he did. He never complained – he was not a ‘self’ person. He was a selfless person. … His toughness is not just the ‘tough man’ part. It’s the way he handled himself in life. He had a combination of great toughness and great softness.” When Mattek left for Iraq, he left a letter sealed with black tape, telling his family they’d know when the time was right to open it. If he returned, he said, he expected to have the letter back unopened. Returning from Maryland late Monday, the Matteks opened their son’s letter. It detailed his love for service, then ended with a quotation that perhaps best summed up his approach to life. “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives,” he wrote. “I have lived.”
A Marine who was the president of his class three out of four years in high school in Antigo died Monday from wounds he received in Iraq last week, the Department of Defense said.
Lance Cpl. John J. Mattek Jr., 24, was injured in an explosion Wednesday as part of combat operations against enemy forces in Al Anbar province, the Pentagon said.
Mattek is the 39th Wisconsin service member killed in Iraq.
“He was a great kid,” Tom Weix, Mattek’s wrestling coach when he was a high school senior, recalled Monday. “It’s pretty sad. He was a go-getter, definitely a leader.”
Jill Mattek of Deerbrook, north of Antigo, said her brother graduated from Antigo High School and then attended UW-Stevens Point.
She said their parents had traveled to Maryland, where Mattek had been flown, but she declined to say anything else.
Mattek was assigned to the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team-2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., the Defense Department said.
As of Monday, at least 1,701 members of the U.S. military have died since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to the Defense Department.
Antigo High School Principal Thomas Zamzow said Mattek played football and wrestled at the school, graduating in 1999. Zamzow coached Mattek when he was eighth-grade quarterback.
“I could tell even then he definitely was a leader and a motivator of the team. He was willing to step up and set a good example,” Zamzow said.
According to Zamzow, Mattek was president of his class when he was a freshman, sophomore and senior. He was a captain of the football team when he was a senior linebacker and was among those in his class voted most likely to succeed.
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