More than 1,500 flag-bearing residents lined the streets of Deer Park on Friday to pay their respects to Army Sgt. Robert Matthew McDowell, who was killed in Iraq this month.
McDowell, 30, was remembered as a hero who had a made-for-Hollywood smile.
“A fallen soldier deserves our highest respect and honor,” the Rev. Tony Castro said during a memorial service at St. Hyacinth Catholic Church.
In front of the altar stood a pillar with a folded American flag, and off to the side was a large portrait of McDowell surrounded by a spray of yellow roses. At the end of the service, the American flag was presented to McDowell’s mother.
The 300 or so people who attended the Mass in McDowell’s honor walked past a table filled with pictures of McDowell from birth and childhood to his marriage. One photo showed a smiling McDowell holding his son, who was born this year.
McDowell, known to his family and friends as Matt, was serving in Iraq when his son was born but had a leave last month that allowed him to visit with his wife, Daniella, and their new baby.
McDowell left his Fort Drum, N.Y., base to return to Iraq on March 23 and died April 1 when an improvised device exploded near his vehicle. Also killed were Staff Sgt. David A. Mejias, 26, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Staff Sgt. Eric R. Vick, 25, of Spring Hope, N.C., and Spc. William G. Bowling, 24, of Beattyville, Ky.
“He was a happy-go-lucky guy that was always there to lend a helping hand and to offer a friendly smile. His death has left his family and friends in shock, and we will always miss Matt,” said his sister-in-law, Stacey McDowell.
Matt McDowell, a 1996 Deer Park High graduate, had been in the Army for nearly 10 years. He was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum and was on his second tour of duty to Iraq.
Friday, residents of Deer Park lined up along Center Street — the main artery through town — waiting for McDowell’s family to pass en route to St. Hyacinth. The family was escorted by Deer Park police as well as the motorcycle Patriot Guard Riders.
World War II veteran Bill Ervin said he was not surprised by the overwhelming support extended the McDowell family.
“Lots of people don’t seem to worry about it and aren’t interested (in the war) but not here in Deer Park,” the 86-year-old said as he held a large pole with an American flag.
Aside from his wife and son, McDowell is survived by a 6-year-old daughter and his parents. His mother and stepfather live in Deer Park; his father lives in Mobile, Ala. Also surviving him are a brother, Michael, of Pearland, and other relatives.
A memorial fund for McDowell’s family was set up at Bank of America. Donations may be made to the Matthew McDowell Memorial Fund, c/o Bank Of America, 5803 Fairmont Pkwy., Pasadena, TX 77505.
In this recent but undated photo provided by his father, U.S. Army Spc. Robert Matthew McDowell holds his newborn son, Nathan. McDowell, son of Robert Kim McDowell of Mobile, was among four soldiers killed Sunday, April 1, when an explosive detonated near their vehicle in Baghdad, Iraq.
Jo Johnson lines up along Center Street on Friday morning in Deer Park, along with a crowd of others holding flags honoring Army Sgt. Robert Matthew McDowell. Sgt. McDowell was killed on April 1, 2007, in Baghdad.