A 20-year-old Marine from Westminster was killed in a noncombat vehicle accident in Iraq on Friday - just one month after arriving in the country, the Department of Defense announced yesterday.
Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, who died in Al Anbar Province, was assigned to Combat Service Support Group-1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Twentynine Palms, Calif. He was a 2003 graduate of Westminster High School.
At his mother's townhouse in Westminster last night, the family was still reeling from the news of his death, which was delivered to them Friday.
Corporal Snyder's mother, Julie Snyder, was too grief-stricken to talk but allowed her sister, Cathy Menefee, to speak for the family. She spoke of his keen sense of humor and an unwavering sense of responsibility, which culminated in his decision to join the military.
"It's sounds so cliche, but he died doing what he wanted to do," Menefee said. "He always wanted to be a Marine."
Matthew Snyder enlisted Oct. 14, 2003. He had been based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., before being assigned to Twentynine Palms in August 2004 as a generator mechanic.
He was the middle of three children, with sisters Sarah Snyder, 22, of Hanover, Pa., and Tracie Snyder, 18, who lives with their father in York, Pa.
Reached by telephone at his home last night, Albert Snyder wept.
"I just want it to be over," the father said. "And I want answers. They said he was the gunnery on top of the Humvee and the Humvee rolled. When is this senseless war going to end?"
Despite his anti-war views, which Albert Snyder said he discussed with his son, he hailed him as "a hero."
"My son wanted to be a Marine since he was 9 years old," he said. "And I'm very, very proud of him. I'm just not very proud of our government right now."
Matthew Snyder, who family members said had an exuberant personality, enjoyed fishing and playing intramural soccer as a teenager.
Most recently, he had enjoyed the Super Bowl in Detroit at close range, providing security as part of a military contingent.
"He said, 'Look for me, I'll be on the Texas side,'" Menefee said.
Pat Ritter, a family friend whose two sons grew up with him, said she'll always remember Matthew Snyder as someone who "kept us laughing."
"He was the clown," said Ritter, who sat at Julie Snyder's side last night.
On the family's refrigerator, a photo from December shows Matthew Snyder standing with several relatives by the Christmas tree at his grandmother's house in Catonsville. Menefee said her nephew never missed an opportunity to visit the family. Whenever he was on leave from the military, he headed home, she said.
Snyder was one of 15 cousins, all of whom looked up to him in the close-knit family, Menefee said.
"All the cousins loved him for different reasons," she said. "He was something different to each of them. He was able to be what they needed him to be."
When he completed boot camp, family members presented him with a hardbound journal filled with handwritten messages expressing their pride in the young man.
"He was a wonderful son and we're very proud of him," Menefee said. "He served his country well."
Jane Perkins, Snyder's aunt and godmother, echoed that sentiment.
"Matt was very proud to be a Marine. He volunteered for the convoy escort security assignment because, in his own words, 'there's a position to be filled and I'm a Marine.' And that's Matt," Perkins said.
David F. Brown, an assistant principal at Westminster High, said he was "devastated" upon hearing of Snyder's death. Brown said he had coached Snyder in an intramural basketball league, from kindergarten through second grade.
"The first image that clicked back in my head was that 6-year-old boy, in the team picture, with the big green shirt that said 'Terrors,' kneeling in the front row. I can still see the photograph," Brown said. "I've known him as a much younger child, and as a high school student, so it's difficult. You see faces and you hear on TV, but it's always kind of distant until it comes home. And now it's home."
Brown said a guidance counselor at the school told him yesterday of remembering Snyder recruiting during lunch time at Westminster High, after he had finished basic training. He said Snyder's death will be announced to students and teachers today.
"Usually in high school, kids are just starting to get in tune with politics," Brown said. "And being that the war itself is not the most popular endeavor right now, I think there will be some who think that he made the ultimate sacrifice and served his country. And there will be some who think that his sacrifice might not have been necessary had he not been in Iraq."
Albert Snyder said he wanted people to know this about his son: "He was a hero and he was the love of my life."