December 13, 2006
An Aiken Marine has died in the line of duty.
Cpl. Matthew Dillon was killed in Iraq over the weekend.
It was his second tour in the country.
His family is filled with both a deep sadness and deep sense of pride.
He died doing what he loved, serving his country. He was a hero even to those who served before him, and in the eyes of one of the men who mattered the most: his father.
Instead of celebrating Christmas this year with their son, the Dillon family will spend it celebrating his life.
"I'm going to put a flag pole in my front yard with the American flag and Marine Corps flag in concrete, with a plaque to dedicate his memory and sacrifices he made," said a tearful Neal Dillon. "That'll be our Christmas."
His son, 25-year-old Marine corporal Matthew Dillon, was killed Sunday by a massive explosion.
Matthew told his mother he made a pact with his best friend, LCpl. Clinton Miller, that if they were going to die, they'd die together.
On December 10, 2006, they did.
"Cpl. Miller, his best friend, bled to death, and another Marine walked off from the burning vehicle. He died shortly after. He had a hole in his head," Neal said.
The three Marines, from homes in Aiken, Arizona, and Iowa, were serving as a part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, stationed in Miramar, California.
"We thought we knew what grief was, but we didn't," Neal said. "We do now. He was a great kid."
Matthew went to Iraq in September. It would be his second tour.
After some time at Augusta State, he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 with the National Guard.
But his heart led him to the Marines, and he enlisted again--this time following his older brother's footsteps.
Matthew was about to begin a career serving as a military police officer.
"He just got promoted," Neal said. "He was selected to serve on the president's squadron. These are the Marines at the White House."
That prestigious assignment would have started in March.
"He did the best he could," Neal said. "He died for us."
Funeral services have not been made yet. His family is trying to arrange services so that they are not on the same day as those for L-Cpl. Miller, so Matthew's best friend's family from Iowa will also be able to attend.
At 10 o'clock this morning, the Department of Defense reported 2,933 casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
October was the deadliest month since January of 2005, with 106 casualties.
November saw 71 deaths.
There have been 53 in the first half of December.