In hindsight, perhaps the title line of my e-mail to my co-workers wasn't the wisest choice.
"Matt Spartz," it read.
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Marie Wilson, one of our newest reporters, opened the e-mail with a sense of foreboding, fearing the worst about our correspondent in Afghanistan.
Marie, who was a journalism major at the University of Illinois with Matt, was relieved to learn that Lt. Matthew Spartz was not a fatality, but had been wounded in the right bicep by a bullet.
He was feeling well enough to correspond with family and friends, and to check in with the Daily Herald, for whom he's been writing a column since his deployment to Afghanistan in May.
"Besides feeling like I played a five-day football game, I'm fine," he wrote in an e-mail. "Unfortunately, we had six warriors who did not make it. It's a rough time at the company. We're having a memorial next week."
In last week's column, I talked about how Matt, a lifelong Lombard resident, wrote one of his most poignant columns about the value our troops place on the handwritten letters, "care packages" and other goodies sent to them by family, friends and strangers. One such stranger, he wrote, was a child who wrote a letter "bluntly ending as only a kid could, with, 'Please don't die.'" That passage flashed into my mind when I got the news about Matt from his grandmother.
It's also worth noting that strangers read about Matt last week and wanted to know what they could do. Some asked for his address to send books and such; one woman was concerned about the troops who do not regularly receive care packages. "It breaks my heart to think of a service person who only gets a couple packages a year when there are so many of us that would love to 'adopt' a soldier."
In my note, I also solicited donations so we could send such a care package to Matt. I'm sure he is well taken care of by his loving family, friends and girlfriend back here in the states, but it seemed especially timely for us to let one of our own stationed in harm's way know we care.
My colleagues at the Daily Herald did not disappoint. Reply e-mails came in almost immediately, including a generous donation from Bob Paddock Jr., one of the company owners. Another staffer wanted to send her own care package to Matt. A sports writer sent along a fiver with a note, "So our guy can get some proper hot sauce." And so on.
I was reminded, too, of how Matt's last column noted he had received six boxes in one day pictures and homemade jam from his girlfriend; Halloween candy and cards, including one "from" his beloved truck. "I could have walked out the gate and won the war on that day," Matt wrote.
I know this war is controversial, and I remember well what might have been our most controversial war, Vietnam, and how our troops were treated. Not well, in many cases. But it seems to me things have changed with our forays into Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, today, everyone seems to respect our troops for putting their lives on the line for a cause many may or may not agree with.
So, for those of you who share that philosophy and want to send Matt a get-well card, care package, or, like the reader above, something for a soldier who might be a little left out, please write me, and I will get you in touch with Matt or let you know how to send things to him and his company.
I'm easy to reach ...