Matt was leading his platoon back from a meeting with village leaders in Aranus, Afghanistan, on Nov. 9, 2007, when anti-coalition militia forces wielding guns and grenade launchers ambushed them. It wasn't the first time Matt's life had been in danger. He had earned a Silver Star for his conduct 10 weeks earlier, when his outpost came under heavy attack and he ran through an area buzzing with bullets to coordinate counterattacks that resulted in no loss of American lives. He was not one to flee danger.
But on that November day, as he hit the deck in a valley 7,500 miles from home and began to return fire, one enemy bullet found its way into the gap in the body armor near Matt's left collarbone. The round tore a diagonal line through his torso, killing him instantly. It tore a hole in the Ferrara family as well.
Matt's parents struggled to focus on work at the Bay Cities Italian Bakery, which they run with Simone, and spent their time scouring the Internet for information about his death. It's while discussing that search that Mario Ferrara retreats behind his sunglasses. "I basically quit working for a year," he says softly. Andy consumed himself with researching the circumstances of his brother's death—"I wanted to know that he didn't make a mistake," he says—even watching a terrorist recruiting video that appears to show the very ambush in which his brother was killed. "You see men falling down the ridge," he says. "It isn't a nice video."
Linda seemed to "age overnight," as Andy put it, and Andy pondered leaving the academy. He wasn't scared for himself, but he fretted over what it would do to his mother if another one of her boys were to come home draped in a flag.
Then he saw how his mother responded to her grief: She didn't blame fate or the military or the President. She instead started sending care packages to injured American soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. She organized volunteers to make fleece blankets for soldiers. Now she sends 200 blankets every other month. Andy remembered why he came to West Point. "Just because my brother died," he says, "doesn't mean I don't have to serve."
On Saturday, cadet Andrew Ferrara turned pro, receiving his diploma, shaking hands with the President and earning the rank of second lieutenant. After he races in Greensboro, and then after he completes his infantry officer training at Fort Benning, Ga., he will report to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He has requested assignment to the division's 3rd Brigade because they are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan next year. He is sure to hit the ground running.
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