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Father of vet killed in Afghanistan shares story with LA Rotary Club

Chuck Lindauer/ Rotary Club of Los Altos
Judge Socrates “Pete” Manoukian addresses the Rotary Club of Los Altos Nov. 14.

Judge Socrates “Pete” Manoukian praised the dedication and sacrifice of U.S. veterans in his appearance at the Rotary Club of Los Altos Veterans Day Luncheon Nov. 14.

The Santa Clara County Superior Court judge dedicated his presentation to his son, Matthew Patrick Manoukian, 29, a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan Aug. 10, 2012. Matt’s mother, Associate Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian of the California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District, also attended the event.

Matt’s story

Matt Manoukian grew up in Los Altos Hills. His father traced the story of his son’s life, thanking by name the numerous teachers and friends who contributed to his development. Matt attended St. Nicholas Catholic School, St. Francis High, the University of Arizona, Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va., and then infantry school.

According to his father, Matt strongly believed in “Pax Americana” (Latin for “American Peace”), a concept he learned at Foothill College that asserts that world peace is only possible if one superpower dominates or a benevolent democracy is established. Matt’s goal was to build a more peaceful world through service in the Marines, a dream he had since he was 7 years old.

Manoukian outlined some family history that emphasized the international aspect of his son’s dedication to serving his country: Matt’s grandfather had survived two Armenian genocide attacks in Turkey, then immigrated to the U.S. as a physician.

Matt was twice deployed to Western Iraq. His reports to his parents were always optimistic, his father said: “Everything’s great!”

Next, he was assigned to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, where he served as team commander, training Afghan police in advance of transitioning security to full Afghan control. In this role, Matt learned Arabic – a feat, said his father, because he had struggled to learn Spanish in school – and used it to converse with the local population. He befriended many Afghan children, and they in turn helped him by pointing out “strangers” in their village.

While learning the Pashto language, Matt adopted the custom of growing a beard to show respect for the local villagers. When times were tough, he told his men, “If they don’t eat, we don’t eat.” As Matt gained respect from the village leaders, they began calling him “The Lion” and he assumed a leadership role among them.

The captain continued giving positive reports to his parents, though he was injured twice by an improvised explosive device (IED). Manoukian said his son generally underreported his dangerous encounters and credited others whenever possible. Matt received many awards for his service, including two Purple Hearts and Navy and Marine Corps medals.

A loyal friend, when several of his friends were severely wounded in combat, Matt asked his parents to take care of them upon their return home. Matt himself never made it home – he was killed while on duty in Afghanistan. The Ceremonial Hall at Moffett Field is now named after him.

Manoukian praised the courage and sacrifice of several of Matt’s friends, who lost limbs and some their lives in military service. They, too, believed in bringing democracy to Afghanistan.

Foothill College veterans

Guests at the luncheon included Foothill College’s Veterans Resource Center manager Carmela Xuereb and several military veterans who benefit from the center.

Judy C. Miner, president of Foothill College, reported that 21,000 veterans are enrolled in post-secondary programs in California, including 16,000 in community colleges. To meet the needs of the 400 veterans enrolled at Foothill, the Veterans Resource Center provides academic counseling and a social outlet for vets to develop camaraderie and share their military experiences and goals. GI Bill Magazine for three years has designated Foothill College a “Veterans Friendly Campus.”

Miner praised Rotary Club member Ron Labetich, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, for founding the club’s Veterans Support Committee, which has generated a $28,500 scholarship fund in Matt’s memory. Labetich also led a fundraising campaign to purchase smartpens, braided graduation cords, a scanner, a laptop and a printer for the Veterans Resource Center. The committee’s activities have grown to include mentoring, legal guidance on benefits and community awareness of challenges facing veterans.

Several members of the Sereno Group who attended the luncheon pledged to donate 1 percent of their agent fees during fall and winter to the Manoukian scholarship fund.

For more information on the Rotary Club of Los Altos, visit losaltosrotary.org.

For more information on resources for local veterans, visit friendsofamericanveterans.com and foothill.edu/vet.

Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos.

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