Date Published: April 9, 2014
Author:  Curt Brown
Publication: South Coast Today; Original Article

‘We have to keep on walking,’ Fallen Marine’s Family Says

A grieving family devotes itself to charitable acts, including the establishment of a memorial foundation in the name of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez, who was killed in Afghanistan in December.

People line Route 6 in Mattapoisett, awaiting the funeral procession of Marine Lance Cpl.

PETER PEREIRA/Standard-Times filePeople line Route 6 in Mattapoisett, awaiting the funeral procession of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez, who was killed in Afghanistan in December.

FAIRHAVEN — When Lisa Rodriguez dropped off her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez, at the airport after a visit, he rarely looked back as he walked through the terminal to his flight, she said.

The 19-year-old’s eyes remained focused straight ahead as he walked through security while family members strained to see him for as long as they could.

His mother said at one point he told them “The hardest thing … (is) to keep on walking, but I have to do it.”

Rodriguez was killed Dec. 11, 2013 in Zad, Afghanistan, when a roadside bomb detonated.  Now, the family especially remembers his words as they look to honor his memory by performing charitable acts in his name.

“We have to keep on walking,” Lisa Rodriguez said. “It’s the path we have chosen and the path he has pointed us to.” “It’s a way to honor him and keep his memory alive.”

While the family could have chosen to get angry or curl up in a ball after Matthew’s death, they instead decided to do something positive to honor him and give back to the community, his mother said.

In the process, they are helping themselves with their grief, she said. The family has started the Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez Memorial Foundation and are planning a kickoff fundraiser from 7 p.m. to midnight May 3 at the VFW Poirier Poirier Post, New Bedford.  The event will be a catered buffet dinner by Riccardi’s and will feature “EJ” or Erik Johnson, a local hip-hop artist, and a disc jockey.

The foundation plans to give $1,000 scholarships to two Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech students, said Lauren Webber, the fallen soldier’s sister.
The scholarships are for any GNB Voc-Tech senior who is planning to attend a college, university or trade school, she said. They will be given out at the school’s awards night in May.

“Matthew was proud to be a graduate of Voke and we want to honor him in that way,” she said.

Webber is president of the foundation and her sister Lisa Doherty is vice president. Matthew’s fiancee, Julia Tapper, 20, of Fairhaven and her family are in full support of the foundation, Lisa Rodriguez said.

The son of Rolando “Rod” Rodriguez, a Marine who served in the Vietnam War, Matthew Rodriguez loved history, and while he was undecided about a career, he wanted to go to college, his mother said. He thought about teaching history or becoming an attorney or a police officer or a firefighter.

“He did want to go to school when he got out,” she said.

The foundation has several other events in the works, according to Michael Knabbe, a member of its board of directors.  It is planning to officially dedicate the playground at the New Bedford Regional Airport at 2 p.m. on May 10 as the Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez Playground, he said.

The foundation, which is completing the paperwork to become a tax-exempt corporation, is also discussing a fall 5K road race as well as getting involved in Toys For Tots and supporting veterans and other military families.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Webber said. “We’re honoring him and grieving him at the same time.”

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