When Naugatuck resident Matthew A. Tooker was shot twice while serving his country in combat in Afghanistan last year, he was devastated.
But it wasn’t the two bullets he sustained to his right arm that broke his spirit. Tooker, a member of the United States Marine Corps, was devastated he wasn’t going to be able to join his platoon again as they served overseas.
“It broke his heart,” said Anne Tooker, Matthew’s mother. “He wanted one more tour of duty.”
Tooker was that kind of guy, family and friends said. A decorated veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he served two tours in Afghanistan as a scout sniper, the first from March 2008 to October 2008 and the second from December 2009 to February 2010.
Tooker was awarded the Purple Heart for his injury, and has , including a Combat Action Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Tooker’s life was cut short early Saturday morning, Aug. 27, when he was , not far from his home on Carriage Drive. He was 25. His is Friday.
Tooker had just gotten home on Aug. 6 after being honorably discharged from active duty. He then entered a reserve unit, meaning he could be called back any time.
Since then, the e-mails, Facebook messages and cards have poured in, Anne Tooker said. Marines she had never even met, who served with Matthew in Afghanistan, sent her messages saying Matthew was like a brother to them.
“He was an amazing kid,” his mother said during an interview this week. “He just had a way with people. There were many people who he started out as enemies with, but ended up as friends.”
Tooker was born in Danbury and lived in the Naugatuck his whole life. He attended Cross Street Elementary School, City Hill Middle School and transferred to Emmett O’Brien Technical School where he graduated as a machinist.
After getting out of high school, Tooker utilized his technical knowledge when he took a job at Gar-Kenyon, an aerospace company in Naugatuck, Anne Tooker said.
He was an outdoorsman, said Kyle Wade, Tooker’s best friend and neighbor since kindergarten. He hunted, fished, hiked and even skydived, and always found enjoyment being outside even when he was young, Wade and Anne Tooker said.
In the past, Wade said he and Tooker hiked everywhere together. They have done the Naugatuck State Forest together, parts of the Long Trail in northern Vermont and Mount Mansfield.
The two had recently gotten back from a hiking trip in Vermont the weekend before the fatal accident. He had talked about wanting to do the Appalachian Trail after getting out of he service, Wade said.
Throughout his life, Tooker had always wanted to be a Marine, said his sister, Abigail Tooker. She recounted the story of what got her brother going in the Corps:
“He had a girl over one night at the house that I didn’t like, so when the phone rang and it was a U.S. Marine recruiter asking for Matthew Tooker, I said ‘sure, let me get you Mr. Tooker,’” Abigail said.
From then on, he was in the service. While that was the propelling moment, Anne Tooker said it was inevitable.
“I think if that incident didn’t happen he would have joined the Corps anyway,” she said. “Matthew’s grandfather was in the U.S. Army and had served in Korea. He was also wounded and received a Purple Heart.”
As evidenced by his convictions to join the Marines, Tooker seemed to be a very goal-oriented person, said Cprl. Steve Denton, a fellow Marine who trained with Matthew in boot camp. Ever since the start of the Corps, Matthew talked about wanting to be a scout sniper, Denton said.
Tooker graduated sniper school training at Parris Island and was stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. Like all snipers, he was given a bullet to wear around his neck, and he named his weapon ‘Zooey’ after the actress the actress Zooey Deschanel, Abigail and Anne Tooker said.
After serving one tour, he returned to the States and, while down in North Carolina, found out just around Christmas that he had to take on a second tour.
“He told me, ‘It’s okay, I don’t want anyone to go down (to North Carolina), don’t worry about me,’” Anne Tooker recounted.
Then, on Feb. 13, Tooker was shot twice in the right forearm during a battle in Marjah, Afghanistan. He was hurt badly enough that he was forced to come home, first to Germany and then to the United States. He was, from that point on, known as one of the Marjah Marines, his mother said.
Among his friends, Tooker was known as a loyal person who stuck to his convictions.
“He was like my brother,” Wade said. “We were really, really close. He was the type of kid who would do anything for you.”
Wade recounted how he and Tooker would stay in touch via letter and phone, even while he was overseas.
Raechel Richards, a friend of Tooker, talked about how he became a good friend of hers while he was wounded. Richards’ husband, Crpl. Robert Richards, was on the same sniper team as Tooker during the time of his injury.
“He was just a guy who cared about everybody and if you met him once you knew who he was and he’d make you feel comfortable,” she said.
Richards said she went to visit him in Bethesda, Md., where he was recovering from his gun shot wounds.
“He was definitely was never afraid to tell you what he felt, he had strong convictions,” she said. “He lived life like everyone wanted to. He live life like today’s the last day.”
After he was shot, Denton described how Tooker was apologetic to his fellow Marines that he had to go home. But going home wasn’t an option for Tooker, Denton said, because of the severity of his injuries.
“Everybody knew what happened, it wasn’t a surprise that he was going home,” he said.
And Denton noted, there was no need for Tooker to apologize.
“If you were one of his friends, he would always help anyway he could,” Denton said. “You didn’t have to ask him for much and he would give you more than expected.”
Editor's Note: For Tooker's obituary, and funeral arrangements, .