View Full Version : Nelsons, father and son, serve in Marines

11-11-05, 12:19 PM
Nelsons, father and son, serve in Marines
By Leeanne T. Stronach/ Correspondent
Friday, November 11, 2005

Matthew Nelson, 24, grew up watching his father serve in the military, so it was no wonder that as soon as he could, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Matthew's father, Dwight Nelson, left high school in 1971 to enlist in the Marines at the age of 17. (He later got his high school diploma and took a few college courses through the Marines).

He joined the Marines because it seemed to be the toughest of all the armed services and he thought he'd give it a shot, Dwight said.

He was also from a military family, with both parents having served during World War II.

Dwight served with the 1st and Third Aircraft Wings, both stateside and overseas, as an air crew chief.

Dwight was on active duty in the Marines for 13 years.

During that time, he was a crew chief on Marine One, the presidential helicopter, during the end of President Jimmy Carter's term and the beginning of President Ronald Reagan's terms.

Along with the presidents, he flew Vice President George H. W. Bush, Mrs. Barbara Bush, and George Shultz, Reagan's secretary of state, Dwight said.

After serving 13 years in the Marines, Dwight would have liked to have served in a reserve unit close to his hometown of Holbrook, but there wasn't one, so in order to eventually receive retirement benefits from the military after 20 years of service, Dwight joined the Air Force Reserves until he retired in 1992 as a tech sergeant.

During his service in the Air Force Reserves, Dwight was called to active duty for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990.

At that time, he served as a crew chief on a C-5 Galaxy, a large cargo airplane which carried men and equipment.

Dwight flew five missions to Saudi Arabia and back.

Dwight said that it was an honor to serve in the military, and he gained valuable technical aircraft experience from his time in the service.

Dwight now works for the Department of Defense in the Defense Contract Management Agency at G.E. Aircraft Engines in Lynn as a program integrator for three different military helicopter engines.

Dwight is proud of his son's service in the Marines.

Matthew, who has attained the rank of sergeant, had wanted to be a Marine from a young age, said his mother, Bonnie Fitzgerald.

Matthew learned to march before he could walk, she said with a chuckle.

Matthew graduated from Holbrook Junior/Senior High School in 1998 and left for the Marines thereafter.

For a year, Matthew was on active duty, but he had to come home for rehabilitation after he was stabbed with a knife in the hand.

He recovered and went back to the Marine Reserves before being deployed to 11 countries in South America.

While in South America, Matthew trained other countries' Marine troops for seven months.

The experience left him with a greater appreciation for the United States, having visited many countries which were less fortunate than us, he said.

When he came back, Matthew was activated for Operation Enduring Freedom and sent first to Okinawa, Japan and then to the Philippines as part of the joint special operations task force for four months.

He returned to Japan and went through a screening to get accepted into a scout sniper platoon.

Nine men showed up for the three day intensive screening, but only he and one other were accepted, Matthew said.

When Matthew got back to the United States in late 2003, he continued to fulfill his regular reserve commitment with the 1st Battalion 25th Marines out of Fort Devens in Ayer.

Early this year, Matthew was sent to Camp LeJeune's Marine scout sniper school for 10 weeks of training.

"It was 10 weeks of hell," he said.

Matthew is now considered a trained scout sniper.

His M.O.S., or military occupational specialty, is infantry but now he is specialized because of his scout sniper training.

With this type of training, Matthew can operate, as an observer and spotter, a M40A3 sniper rifle, which requires a two-man team to be able to use it.

Going from serving months in the military to being a civilian to going back numerous times can be difficult, Matthew said.

It has been challenging to find employment when he was not active, but Matthew was employed during his last stretch while he was back at his father's house in Holbrook.

He has been working for Phil Martin, owner of Architectural Millwork, a custom woodworking company.

Martin is also the stepfather of Matthew's girlfriend of two years, Melissa McDonald.

Martin and McDonald have been great supporters of Matthew's career in the Marines, and Matthew hopes that Melissa will still be around after his next stint overseas, he said.

Matthew leaves for training on Dec. 1 for a seven to eight month deployment to the Middle East.

He will first be at Fort Devens, which means that he'll be able to be home for Christmas before he will be sent to California for more training. He will then go on to the Middle East.

Matthew believes that the war in Iraq is a worthy cause.

He feels that people who want to end the war now are losing sight of what has been accomplished, and if they ended their efforts now, the country would be left in turmoil.

When he gets back from his deployment, Matthew and his father would like to start a foundation for the other Marines in his battalion which would purchase and send necessary tactical equipment to those who are fighting for our country, he said.

Many organizations send things like toothbrushes and shampoo, which are appreciated, but they would like to purchase equipment such as shooting tripods, periscopes, range finders, binoculars, drop holsters, and boots to the snipers who need these items to ensure that they can do their job effectively and efficiently.

The military is getting better at supplying a lot of this gear, but the foundation would provide the snipers with the best gear available, Matthew said.

The main reason Matthew joined the Marines was to earn money for college

So far, Matthew has been able to attend Massasoit Community College for a few courses and would like to take more when he gets back, he said.

Matthew also chose to join the Marines because he always looked up to them.

He knew that they were the best in the world so he wanted to be a part of them, he said.

Plus, "I get to shoot people," Matthew said with a laugh.

His parents try not to get too worried about his upcoming deployment to the Middle East.

Bonnie is concerned about her son, but she knows that he is well trained, and she is proud of all that he has accomplished in his military career so far, she said.

On Veterans' Day, Dwight, his wife Jane, and his mother Eunice Nelson will visit a cemetery and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, Dwight said.

At the Winthrop Congregational Church, where Dwight is a member, a "Patriotic Musical Salute to Veterans" will take place on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 1 p.m.

All are welcome to attend this musical celebration which will feature patriotic songs sung by Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Dan Clark and keynote speaker Captain Thomas Hudner, a Korean War Medal of Honor recipient and the treasurer of the Medal of Honor Society.

Matthew never works on Veterans' Day, he said.

He and his father celebrated the Marine Corps birthday (Nov. 10) together by attending a luncheon in Boston on Tuesday.

Matthew tries not to dwell on his impending leave from his family and friends.

He knows that he has a great support system, including his older brother Brian and his wife Rachel, waiting back home for him, he said.

Leeanne Stronach can be contacted at ltstronach@aol.com.