Retired Army Sgt. Matt Watters doesn’t like a fuss.
If you just thank him for his service — including a deployment to Iraq in 2003, where he lost a leg in combat — that’s fine. That’s more than enough.
“I have issues with thinking I deserve anything,” Watters, of Sumner, said Monday at a Veterans Day event at the Museum of Flight.
He had to get over that, and fast. As part of a collaboration between Wells Fargo and Marysville Ford, Watters was gifted with a 2019 Ford EcoSport through the Military Warriors Support Foundation’s Transportation4Heroes program.
“This is going to ease our financial burden,” said Watters, 40, a former team leader in the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment who is now a member of the Tacoma Police Department. He is a patrol officer, as well as a member of the bomb squad.
“When I was in the military, I blew stuff up,” Watters cracked. “Now, I try not to.”
He has an unmarked police vehicle that he uses for work, but the rest of the time drives a Chevy Cruze that he bought for his son, Owen, when he was in high school.
Owen is now 21 and deployed with the Army. As for the Cruze? “God, I don’t know what year it is,” Watters said with a laugh.
This new car will be “a family vehicle” that will probably be put to good use by his daughter, Zoe, 15, who was starting driver’s lessons that very day.
The event included speeches by Tukwila Mayor Allen Ekberg; Rep. Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, who served in the Air Force; and retired Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who spoke of a “big idea”: mandatory, one year of national service for young adults. Not just military service, but volunteerism, civic participation.
Doing so would “rekindle the civil discourse, and the civility that is missing,” Chiarelli said. “Let’s stop ignoring the problem and reinforce the reality that freedom is not free.”
No one knows that better than those gathered at the museum. And they remain the soldiers they once were.
As an honor guard entered the room, hands instinctively snapped to foreheads in salute. Gray heads, bald heads, heads wearing baseball hats identifying different wars or branches of service. Some hands moved over hearts, and stayed there as the Boeing Employees’ Concert Band played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Eric Dunkley, a Tukwila firefighter who served in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, stood in stiff salute, his eyes focused, while his 5-year-old daughter, Isabella, looked up at him, repeatedly patting his side. Dunkley never moved, never looked down at her until the colors had been presented.
“It’s just part of the discipline that we learn,” Dunkley said of his focus. “I will explain to her later.”
Once the honor guard had escorted the flags out, people came up to congratulate Watters, peer into the car, thank him for his service and, in the case of one fellow veteran, raise a hand to his forehead, and offer a salute.