Marine Matthew Lembke of Tualatin dies of injuries suffered in Afghanistan

Published: 2009-07-10

Cpl. Matthew Lembke was on his third tour of duty when he was wounded in Afghanistan. This photo was taken during an earlier tour of Iraq.

by Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian

Friday July 10, 2009, 5:04 PM

Cpl. Matthew Lembke, a Tualatin man serving his third combat tour, died Friday at Bethesda Naval Hospital from complications from his blast injuries suffered in Afghanistan.

The 22-year-old Marine sniper had been patrolling on foot June 22 when an IED exploded. He lost both his legs and sustained internal injuries.

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He was flown to the U.S. Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where his parents, Claudia and Dale, and sister Carolyn, joined him. Last weekend, he was flown to Bethesda in Maryland where he underwent several surgeries.

Lembke, who was nicknamed “Lumpe” by a high school coach, was a popular Tualatin High Timberwolf student/athlete with a deep pool of friends. Within hours of his wounding, one friend launched a Facebook group that swelled to 318 members. Other family friends launched a web page and a trust fund for him at U.S. Bank. Marines recovering from wounds from Afghanistan flocked to the family at the hospital.

Lembke’s story, which was featured in The Oregonian July 8, drew national response from members of the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade headquartered at Camp Lejeune to Richard Davis, the president and CEO of U.S. Bank, where his mother, Claudia, works in the Machine Tool Finance Group.

Scott Jones, whose son Garrett, a Marine from Dundee, lost his leg in 2007 wrote saying, “Both my wife Phyllis and I SOO want to reach out to the Lembke family. We want them to know there is a Marine family living near them who has been through what they are going through.” Garrett Jones eventually returned to duty and is planning to attend Western Oregon University.

But Lembke’s wounds were catastrophic. Doctors began performing surgery every other day to combat infection, which observers say is a common complication because of the debris associated with such blast injuries. He was mostly sedated, but at some points, had blinked his eyes and squeezed the hands of his mother, father and sister.

On Wednesday, they reported that after a morning surgery, Lembke began to take a turn for the worse. “Pray for my brother,” Carolyn posted. “… all of a sudden, things are not looking so good.”

The family camped at the ICU waiting room Thursday night. They reported he did not appear to be in pain. Lembke died about 9:30 a.m. Friday PST, his mother said.

First Lt. Joseph Cull, his platoon commander, wrote the family from Afghanistan. He had met Lembke last year when Lembke was one of 50 Marines to try out for a specialized platoon. He was one of seven who passed all examinations, and events, and was selected. Cull wrote that he was 100 miles away, at another position with a different team; when he received the message that Lembke was wounded.

“We had been operating for about 4 days straight, and sleep was short at hand for myself, and other Marines in the platoon. I came back from the radio, with Staff Sergeant Bustamante and we just sat down, silent and very much awake, regardless of fatigue. Soon word spread, our actions where mimicked by others all around, not due to the degree of Matt’s wounds, but because of the severity of his character, his bond with others and more importantly the profound respect all within our battalion have for your son’s professionalism and solid character.

“You have 26 sons, who are praying for his recovery every day, regardless of what we do, what hostilities are encountered in our day he is with us, in our actions and thoughts.”

Eighty-three Marines have died in Afghanistan between 2002 and July 7. Two more, Lance Cpl. Roger Hager, 20, of Gibsonville, N.C. and Master Sgt. John Hayes 36, of Middleburg Fla. died July 8 in the same area where Lembke was serving, Helmand Province.

Lembke is survived his parents, Claudia and Dale, of Tualatin; sister, Carolyn Lembke, of Sherwood; and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. Services are pending.

Julie Sullivan: 503-221-8068; juliesullivan@news.oregonian.com

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