Monday July 20, 2009, 9:41 PM
The son of Claudia and Dale Lembke of Tualatin and brother of Carolyn, Matt Lembke, 22, is the 131st military member with ties to Oregon to die as a result of serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
At his graveside service at Willamette National Cemetery in Happy Valley, Gov. Ted Kulongoski called Lembke, “the best Oregon has to give.”
“Your son, if he’d come home, would have made our state a much better place,” Kulongoski told Lembke’s parents.
A sniper, Lembke was serving his third combat tour when an IED exploded during a late night foot patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He lost both his legs. He underwent several surgeries and held on for 18 days before dying July 10 at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
The priest who gave Lembke his First Holy Communion only 14 years ago eulogized him at a funeral Mass at the Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Tualatin. “We still do not know why now,” said the Rev. Paul Peri. “He was so young. Perhaps, then, rather than ask a question we can never fully answer, we should ask instead, ‘Why did he live?'”
The answer, he said, could be found in the presence of the 800 mourners who filled the church. Lembke, Peri said, had a quiet faith, a noble soul and a spirit of self-sacrifice.
He was born Nov. 4, 1986, graduating in 2005 from Tualatin High School, where he played football and landed the nickname “Lumpe.”
Thomas Boyd, The OregonianClaudia and Dale Lembke take a final moment at the Willamette National Cemetary at the casket of their son, Marine Cpl. Matthew R. Lembke, 22. Matt died July 1 at Bethesda Naval Hospital from injuries sustained in a June 22 explosion in Afghanistan.
Lembke attracted friends easily. Hundreds recently learned of him online through a Facebook group, and thousands more through The Oregonian, which featured him in a July story as he battled his injuries.
Fellow Marines flew in from across the country to attend his funeral. The 20 young men closest to him pinned red roses to their lapels in Lembke’s honor; they also gave one to his father, Dale Lembke, said Nick Carney, a high school friend.
Over the weekend, Carney and another friend pored through old photos of Lembke, compiling a DVD to give to his family.
“Because he was always smiling in every picture it was hard to narrow down which pictures to put in,” Carney said.
Police halted traffic on Interstate 205 to make way for Lembke’s funeral procession, which traveled 16 miles from Tualatin to the cemetery. One elderly man stood at the shoulder of the road next to his camper, holding a flag and saluting each passing car.
In a shelter at Willamette National Cemetery, those who loved Lembke pressed in close to his parents and sister.
From the hillside up above them came three sharp volleys; from the grassy stretch just behind them came bugle notes. The honor guard’s heads bent to the task of perfectly creasing Lembke’s flag. Kulongoski kneeled to present it to Lembke’s mother, Claudia.
And when 20 weeping young men and his father passed by Lembke’s silver casket, each left him his rose.
— Paige Parker; email@example.com