Moments before his death, Army Pfc. Matthew A. Commons of the 75th Rangers was pumped. “I asked one of the guys who was with him,” recalls his mother, “and he said that Matt was excited. He wanted to go. He was ready to do his job.” The job was rescuing a U.S. Navy SEAL team that had been ambushed and trapped on a remote mountain in Afghanistan as they were attempting to set up a strategic observation post.
In the early dawn of March 4, 2002, Commons was part of Operation Anaconda, the first major battle in Afghanistan and the first that included non-special forces. A Razor 3 Chinook helicopter had been hit by enemy fire along a desolate 10,500-foot frozen ridge of Takur Ghar in Shah-e-Kot Valley near the Pakistan border and the men inside were trapped in a fierce battle. Rescuers sped to the site, but as the U.S. Army MH-47E Chinook rescue helicopter hovered over a ridge looking for the downed Razor 3, a rocket propelled grenade slammed into the Chinook’s right engine while machine gun fire ripped through the fuselage. Within seconds, Commons and three others were killed as the rescue helicopter crashed to earth and the men jumped out directly into enemy fire.
In the 18-hour battle that ensued with anywhere from 300 to 1,000 Taliban and al-Qaida forces, seven American soldiers lost their lives and four more were seriously wounded. Rescue teams slogged through knee-high snow and scrambled up 70-degree slopes while dodging enemy fire from the entrenched al-Qaida and Taliban forces.
As evening approached, the deadliest battle of Operation Anaconda was coming to a close. Under cover of nightfall, the remaining forces were airlifted to safety, along with the injured and those who lost their lives.
Pat Marek, Common’s mother, credits the values that her son learned in scouts for her son’s willingness to join in the rescue effort. “He learned loyalty, teamwork and a sense of citizenship,” she explains. “Because of his scouting experience, I think he felt a real sense of pride I his country.”
Commons spent most of his scout life in Boulder City as a member of Cub Scout Pack 12 and Boy Scout Troop 7. Last Memorial Day, hundreds turned out for the city’s dedication of a new memorial park that honors Commons and the other six soldiers who fell in that deadly firefight. Seven stones, one dedicated to each of the fallen soldiers, stand in silent vigil around a dome-shaped grassy knoll. Across the way, other stones symbolize those who fight on. The dedication culminated with a Boy Scout Gold Star Ceremony that had Matthew’s mother pin a Gold star on the troops’ flags.
Since WW I, The Gold Star has been given by the U.S. government to family members of soldiers who have fallen in action. The Boy Scout Troops have adopted the tradition by placing a gold star on their troop flag.
“Because of Matthew,” says his stepsister, Cindy Duncan, who is also Den Mother for herown son’s Webelo den, “our pack has written to the soldiers who served with Matthew. I can’t help him, but I can do something for the guys who are still out there.” Duncan hopes all fallen scouts will be honored with their own Boy Scout Gold Star Ceremony. “You may not have known him, but he was one of ours,” she says. “The Scout Gold Star brings that home.” Matt Commons 1991 Story by Lynn Goya
Matt Commons 1991
Story by Lynn Goya