Matthew Charles Hays Freeman, the son of Mark Hays and stepson of Paula Hays of Evanston, was killed in action during combat operations in the Shpee Valley of Kapisa Province in Afghanistan. Mr. Freeman, 29, was a frequent and regular visitor to Evanston and Chicago over the past the past 20 years, said his father and his half-brother, Harrison Hays.

Mr. Freeman graduated from the Naval Academy in 2002. “The Naval Academy was something he had dedicated himself to,” said Harrison. Visiting him in Annapolis was “one of the proudest moments of my life,” he continued.

After graduation Mr. Freeman was stationed in Okinawa. He began as a pilot of the Harrier jet but moved on to the C-130 transport plane, said Ms. Hays. Not wanting to  spend his service commitment on the sidelines, his father said, he voluntarily “detached from his job as a pilot to join a Marine battalion on the ground in Afghanistan.” His father said he never tried to talk him out of the decision, despite the obvious increase in danger, but he did talk to Matthew about why he would leave pilot duty to volunteer to join combat troops. “He really wanted to make a difference,” said Mr. Hays, his voice catching as he spoke to a reporter.

Embedded in a battalion within the Afghan army, Matthew Freeman was assigned to communicate with tribal elders to present them with “a different option from the Taliban, offering to dig a well or build a school,” said Mr. Hays.

Once embedded with the Afghans on the ground, Mr. Freeman volunteered again, this time to go on reconnaissance patrols to “get to know the terrain,” said Mr. Hays. On his second such patrol his unit was ambushed by enemy forces. Matthew Freeman climbed atop a kulat “to achieve better observation of the enemy’s firing position,” notes his Bronze Star citation.

Mr. Freeman visited Evanston “three or four times a year,” said his brother. He loved Evanston‘s proximity to Chicago and the lake, his father and brother said. “He grew up in rural Georgia,” continued Harrison. “The Big City was good for him to see.” Harrison described Matthew as “smart as a whip” and “naturally gregarious” with “that southern charm.”

Mr. Freeman last visited Evanston in July, on his way to his new deployment in Afghanistan. “I got five good days with him here in July,” said Harrison.

Mr. Freeman’s family members said they feel the country’s ongoing military operations seem to escape the consciousness of most Evanstonians. “I can’t tell you how many people have told us that this is the first person close to them that has been killed or injured in this war,”
said Ms. Hays.