Date Published: May 11, 2014
Author: Peter Gelzinis
Publication: Boston Herald; Original Article

Playground Honors Fairhaven Marine

CHILD’S PLAY: Julia Tapper, the Marine’s fiancee, joins Rodriguez’s father, Rolando, as they cut the ribbon.

At 19, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Rodriguez was living his dream. To quote one of the commanding officers of his platoon, the kid from Fairhaven was at “the tip of the spear,” ferreting out IEDs buried along Afghanistan’s merciless roads.

On Dec. 11, one of those roadside bombs killed him. When Matt’s mom, Lisa Rodriguez, got the call that every parent of a soldier dreads, one of the first things she did was call her friend, Tammie Irwin.

“Tammie, I am going to need another bench,” she said.

Lisa Rodriguez and Tammie Irwin are licensed pilots, part of a group of female fliers called the Atlantic Aviators. For the past five years, Lisa had been chairing an effort by the Aviators to rebuild a nameless playground at the edge of the New Bedford Airport.

Along with her husband, Rolando, a Marine who fought in the battle of Hue city in Vietnam, Lisa purchased a memorial bench in honor of their parents. Now she needed one for Matt, who once romped as a little boy in that nameless play space by the shadow of the runway.

Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of people from Fairhaven and New Bedford gathered for the dedication of the Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez Playground.

We tend to memorialize our fallen heroes with bronze plaques, hero squares and statues. But Lisa Rodriguez made it quite clear there was no more perfect tribute to her son’s generous and selfless spirit than a place where children would be free to play and dream the “big dreams” he had.

“We will mourn and cry for Matt every day for the rest of our lives,” Lisa said, “but we will also celebrate his life and that is the most important thing.

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my son’s life and honor his memory than to have children playing, having fun and fulfilling their dreams on a playground that bears Matt’s name.”

Two Marine officers who were with Matthew Rodriguez in the last moment of his life, 1st Lt. Bradford Holden and Capt. Alexander Mora of Lynn, stood in that playground, offering both their condolences and their praise for an irrepressible hometown boy.

Mora recalled the call he made on Dec. 11 to Matthew’s father, Rolando.

“He asked me just one question,” Mora recalled. “He said, ‘Captain Mora, did my son do good for you?’ I told him, no sir. Your son did great.”

When the service had ended, Mora said what he will remember is Matthew Rodriguez’s smile.

“You could tell that this is what he always wanted to,” Mora said, “because he was always smiling even in the most difficult situations.”

There is a certain serenity about Lisa Rodriguez. She says it comes from knowing her son gave his life for his country.

“All deaths are terrible,” she said, “but I think this would have been so much harder if it was a senseless death. A drunk driver, or some other accident. My son died in the service of his country, as a Marine. It was the choice he made, the one he had been dreaming about.”

When she flies over that playground named after her son, Lisa Rodriguez will smile through her tears.

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