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Army Sgt. Matthew L. Tallman, 30, Groveland

September 09, 2007|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

Virginia Tallman continues to replay a trio of messages left on her answering machine this summer.

Her only child, Matthew, first called to tell her he had arrived in Kuwait, on his way to Iraq. Then, he left word to say he had reached the Iraqi town of Kirkuk and was keeping busy as a helicopter crew chief in the Army. And on a third call, he said the sand was bothering him, but there was no reason to worry.

"He said, 'I don't want you to sit here worrying about me, Mom. I'm safe,' " Virginia Tallman said, recounting her son's third message.

Each time, she was away from the phone.

The recorded messages carry even greater meaning these days, since Army Sgt. Matthew L. Tallman was killed Aug. 22 in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Multaka, Iraq, north of Baghdad. At age 30, he was the oldest of 14 soldiers killed.

Tallman was assigned to the 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment at Ft. Lewis, Wash.

Now when she replays his final message, his mother says aloud, "I don't have to worry about you anymore, Matt."

Soon after Tallman graduated from high school in 1996, his mother suggested that he join the Army. He wasn't a particularly good student and didn't really like to study, she said, so she thought the military might be the right fit.

But he said no. "He said, 'Well, Mom, you want me to jump from the fireplace to the fire,' " his mother recalled.

Tallman worked and traveled for three years, and then moved back to his mother's home in Groveland, east of Modesto. One day, he came home and told her that he had visited the Army recruiter and was going to enlist.

"Boot camp was a wonderful thing for him," she said. "It gave him a lot of confidence and a lot of discipline. . . . I think he was like a lot of young men that just grow up a little slow."

Tallman met his wife, Nicole, in 2000, when both were in training at Ft. Eustis, Va. She was in his barracks, teaching new arrivals how to prepare their lockers for inspection, and "he was the only one who wasn't listening to me. He had his ears plugged up with earphones while listening to his music. That's how he got me to notice him."

Not that it was tough to notice him. At 6 feet 2, "he kind of stood out no matter where he was," she said.

They were married later that year and, in 2001, their daughter, Sandra, was born. "He was devoted to her from the second her big blue eyes looked at his," his wife said. "She was definitely something special to her dad."

Last year, the couple's second child, Matthew Ryley, was born. Tallman "wanted to have a boy so bad," his wife said. "He said, 'I won't believe it until he comes out and pees on the doctor.' "

Virginia Tallman said she wasn't nervous about her son's safety when he was dispatched to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in 2004 as part of a helicopter maintenance crew.

But she was apprehensive when she learned this year that he would be sent to Iraq as part of the flight squadron.

"I was pretty upset," she said. "When he left, I said, 'Matt, I don't want you to go.' He just said, 'I know, Mom. I know.' "

Tallman's mother and widow described him as an easygoing guy who loved the outdoors, computer games and reading. Born and reared in the Bay Area, he was a good skier and enjoyed bicycling. His mother regularly took him on hikes -- much to his dismay initially.

But as he got older, he fell in love with the wilderness. "Every time he came home, he'd have to go and get his dose of Yosemite," his mother said.

Michael Seidler, a teacher at St. Lawrence Academy in Santa Clara, where Matthew attended high school, said he seemed to be looking for direction as a teenager.

"He was figuring out life by the time he passed away," Seidler said. "Life was coming together for him."

Before Tallman died, his superiors in the Army asked him to apply for a promotion to sergeant. Posthumously, he was awarded the designation.

Tallman's father, H.L. "Ted," died when Matthew was 3. Matthew was buried near his dad's grave at Gates of Heaven Cemetery in Los Altos, Calif.

Tallman's voice doesn't just remain on his mother's answering machine. Before he left for Iraq, he recorded a greeting on a stuffed dog that he purchased for his daughter. He says, "Sandie, I love you and I miss you, and I'll never ever forget about you. I love you very much."


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