Imagine playing the Star Spangled Banner on an electric guitar, in the middle of the ocean, for the entire crew of the USS Boxer … on the Independence Day after Osama bin Laden got killed. Does it get more American than that? Matthew is a Kentucky-born artist, athlete, 10-year Navy veteran, and today’s #YOUAREGOVX member.
I grew up in a trailer in Northern Kentucky, and I always wanted to get out of their and start my own adventure. My great grandpa Fitzpatrick was in the Navy during WW2 and every picture I saw of him in uniform made me want to be just like him.
9/11 happened when I was a senior in high school. My best friend was living with some relatives at the time, and had mentioned that he’d probably need to leave when they started a family. Sure enough, his aunt told him she was pregnant, and so he left. We both knew we had to go. It was like a sign from the heavens or something. We enlisted in Tennessee in 2002.
I served as an Aviation Support Equipment Technician. I worked on the flight deck and flight line, working on tow tractors, forklifts, firefighting rigs, crash and salvage cranes and other gear. I had one Western Pacific deployment on the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in 2005, and another on the USS Boxer (LHD 4) where we performed counter piracy operations in 2011.
On July 4th I performed the Star Spangled Banner in front of the whole ship on an electric guitar.
I remember the summer of 2011 most of all. We stayed out in the Gulf of Aden for 110 days straight around the time Osama Bin Laden was killed. On July 4th I performed the Star Spangled Banner in front of the whole ship on an electric guitar. During the same deployment I won a ship-wide wrestling tournament. As an enlisted E5, getting the chance to beat a Marine Corps Captain was probably the best athletic moment of my life.
I experienced a few difficult times in the Navy. I had aspirations to become a SEAL, but it just never worked out. And during one deployment, my family went through some financial troubles. I was lucky to have my shipmates and good friends to help me through it. During my last four years in the Navy, I was a supervisor and mentor to a lot of the young guys, and helping my shipmates in return was its own reward.
In 2012, I was involuntarily separated due to a mass force reduction. After ten years and five days, the Navy decided to show me the door. It was the worst day of my life. I was halfway there and suddenly they were done with me. It took a long time to recover from that. But I’m still proud to have served my country, and I’m glad I got through it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been making art. Now I get to do it for a living. There’s beauty all around us; we just need to pay attention to it. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of mosaics for various schools in the San Diego area. I thoroughly enjoy creating something amazing and inspiring for others to see. Working with the children at the schools is the most fulfilling part of the job. The kids here don’t have the same amount of creative outlets that I did in school, due to budget cuts and whatnot. So it’s great to be able to bring it to them. Teaching them little tricks I’ve learned along the way and seeing them pick up on them is awesome.
I imagine, what would it be like for my family and friends if I never came back from a war? How lucky am I to be alive and breathing?
Lastly, I support and raise money for the Travis Manion Foundation. I wanted to give back to the people who gave to me. Challenge myself to honor the fallen. I truly believe in the TMF mission and I love the people who are a part of it. There are so many negative and hateful things going on in the world today, and it motivates me to be even that much more positive. I imagine, what would it be like for my family and friends if I never came back from a war? How luck am I to be alive and breathing, standing on my own two feet, and having the ability to actually run a marathon? I think about guys like Travis Manion, and Brendan Loony, and what they would have done if they had come back. But they didn’t. These guys are true American heroes, and I will spend the rest of my life honoring them.