Photo By: Photo by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
There were tears, but also plenty of smiles and laughter as family, friends and fellow Marines shared stories about Los Altos Hills native Capt. Matt Manoukian throughout a memorial service for the fallen Marine Saturday at St. Francis High.
Capt. Manoukian, 29, was one of three Marines killed Aug. 10 during a predawn Ramadan meal and security meeting with local police in southern Afghanistan.
Capt. Manoukian is survived by his father, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Socrates “Pete” Manoukian; his mother, Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, Associate Justice of the Sixth District California Court of Appeal; brothers Michael and Martin; and the extended Manoukian and Bamattre families.
Those celebrating Capt. Manoukian’s life included Major Gen. Paul Lefebvre, commander Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps Capts. Bryan Buckley and Joseph Apkarian, who accompanied Capt. Manoukian’s body home from Afghanistan.
Several family members and friends told stories of Capt. Manoukian, including his best friend Michael Montoya, high school sweetheart Missy Graybehl and uncles Philip and Dr. Jerry Manoukian.
Before the closing prayer, Capt. Manoukian’s parents were presented with his Purple Heart. The Marine Color Guard and bagpiper Lettie Smith playing a soulful, “Amazing Grace” led the procession outside.
U.S. Marines honored Capt. Manoukian with a 21-gun salute accompanied by “Taps” as the California State Flag was presented to the Manoukians.
Fulfilling a childhood goal
Days before the memorial service, Pete Manoukian recalled the somber Aug. 10 night when four Marines approached his door.
“It seemed like time stopped. It was like I was sort of living in two dimensions – one that I’m in and one that I’m kind of on the outside looking in. The Marines didn’t have to tell me anything,” he told the Town Crier of learning about his son’s death. “You just see them at the door, four of them.”
He described Matt – a 2001 St. Francis High School graduate – as independent, loyal and protective of those closest to him. He added that his son was a Marine with “tremendous respect” for other cultures, noting that he studied Middle Eastern culture and history avidly, and learned to speak Arabic.
As a platoon commander during his first tour of duty in Iraq, Capt. Manoukian insisted on walking through villages, greeting children and their parents in person, instead of patrolling in a Humvee.
“He could tell you the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite and the intricate differences in religion. He respected the Muslim culture and the Muslim people,” his father said.
Pete Manoukian said his son wanted to be a Marine from the age of 10 and worked diligently toward that goal, transforming himself from a 250-pound man who had “trouble running up a hill” to a sculpted 210-pound Marine-in-training who ran 14-mile treks through Los Altos Hills and was “as strong as an ox.”
Shortly after graduating from the University of Arizona in 2005, his son began to realize his goal by attending Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va.
“When he got to Camp Pendleton, he was lean and mean,” Pete Manoukian said. “When (the Marines) did their 40-pound (pack), 10-mile run, guys were breaking their legs and dropping like flies. Matt was pushing people, pulling people and running beside them.”
When it came to his two younger brothers, Capt. Manoukian happily played the role of the protective older brother, according to his father.
Soon after the birth of the couple’s second son, Michael, Pete Manoukian remembers asking the then 2-year-old Matt to watch over his napping newborn brother.
“We would say to Matt, ‘We’re putting the baby down for a nap. Can you watch him?’” he said smiling. “So he’d get into the crib, we’d put the baby in the crib and Matt would sit there and watch him. Then, poof, he’d fall asleep too.”
After the birth of Martin, the couple’s youngest son, in 1991, the three boys shared an unbreakable bond, Pete Manoukian added.
“They were three peas in a pod,” he said of his sons. “They just loved each other to pieces.”
Capt. Manoukian had a strong sense of loyalty, his father said, calling him a “charismatic guy” who made friends easily and looked out for them.
“If you were a friend of Matt’s, and it didn’t take much, you knew you could walk the street safely, because he was always watching out for you,” he said proudly.
His own way
With a hearty laugh, Pete Manoukian recalled his son’s insistence on doing things his own way – even as a toddler.
At 18 months, Matt was taught to descend the home’s stairs by bumping down in a sitting position, step-by-step. Two weeks later, he had a better idea.
“He decided that he could go down the steps faster if he went headfirst and pulled himself down the carpeted steps,” Pete Manoukian reminisced with a chuckle. “That’s the way he was … he had an answer for everything.”
Pete Manoukian said that while the loss of his son has been difficult to bear, he’s fortunate for the support his family has received from friends and the St. Francis and St. Nicholas school communities.
“He’s gone, but I’m always going to feel his presence. Always,” Pete Manoukian said, his voice trailing off. “He’s just a great guy … a great kid and a fine American.”
The following is a sampling of comments by those memorializing Capt. Matt Manoukian during his memorial service Saturday at St. Francis High School.
“Matt Manoukian is the embodiment of what we try to instill here at St. Francis.”
–Kevin Makley, St. Francis High School president
“The difference Matt made in this world is significant and beyond description.”
–The Honorable Kathleen O’Leary, presiding Justice of the Fourth Appellate District, Division Three
“Matt always tried to take care of everyone. And in that, we saw his good example and his beauty.”
–The Honorable Kenneth Barnum, Santa Clara County Superior Court
“Even with all these people here, there’s an intimacy … that’s what Matt was good at. He knew how to bring people together.”
–Michael Montoya, friend
“He always wanted what was best for others, even if he had to sacrifice for himself.”
–Missy Graybehl, girlfriend
“If he found you to be an ally, you could have no better friend.”
–Phil Manoukian, uncle
“I’ve been lucky because since the day I was born, I had a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth – Matthew Patrick Manoukian.”
–Michael Manoukian, brother
“He never quit, he never quit on me, and he made sure I never quit on myself.”
–Martin Manoukian, brother
“My heart is completely broken and my life has changed forever.”
–Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, mother