Commando recalled as calming presence
By James Gonser
Advertiser Staff Writer
Matthew G. Axelson was a quiet professional.
That's the way the 29-year-old petty officer second class was described for a ceremony yesterday honoring Pearl Harbor Navy SEALs killed in Afghanistan.
Axelson was the last of the four SEALs who went missing in the rugged hills of Konar province on June 28. His body was found Sunday after an intense search.
The military yesterday had only identified the missing commando as a Pearl Harbor SEAL, but Axelson was included in a ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific for SEALs killed in Afghanistan who were part of Delivery Vehicle Team One.
An excerpt from the program read:
"It would be hard to meet a better person.
"Extremely intelligent, what seemed hard and confusing to most was a piece of cake to Axe. Always willing to lend a helping hand.
"If you think of the ideal sniper, that was Matt; he was the ultimate quiet professional. He had a calming presence about him that was contagious."
The avid golfer probably could have made the PGA Tour if he set his mind to it, the program went on to say.
His heart and soul, however, belonged to the Navy SEALs.
During a secret mission, Axelson's four-man team was trapped by Taliban forces and called for help. Helicopters were sent to pull the team out, but 16 troops, including three other SEALs from Pearl Harbor, died when a helicopter crashed under enemy fire. The fifth SEAL from Pearl Harbor killed during the mission and rescue was part of Axelson's team.
Axelson's body was found near the helicopter crash site in an area that had been searched but was difficult to survey because of high peaks and heavy tree cover, a military spokesman said.
"It's kind of bittersweet," said Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, a military spokesman. "We are severely disappointed that we didn't find him alive, but we are also relieved at the fact that he's no longer lost up in those mountains."
Rear Adm. Joseph Maguire, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command at Pearl Harbor, said Axelson's body was found in roughly the same area where the bodies of two other SEALs were found.
"It was his platoonmates that went out, were the ones that found him and the ones that brought him home," Maguire said.
Axelson was raised in Cupertino, Calif., a town with a population of about 50,000 south of San Francisco and east of San Jose. He joined the Navy in 2000 and underwent extensive training before being sent to Hawai'i. He was deployed to Afghanistan in March.
Axelson, who earned a degree in political science from California State University-Chico, is being posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
Maguire said rumors of Axelson being captured and a statement from a purported Taliban spokesman that Axelson had been beheaded were "absolutely false."
U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said the injuries on Axelson's body were consistent with "a firefight, a combat operation with small-arms fire, RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) rounds."
He is survived by his wife, Cindy; father, Cordell; mother, Donna; and brother Jeff.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.