I was born at Addison Gilbert Hospital and graduated from Gloucester High School. The last five generations of my family have called Gloucester home, and I am optimistic that one day my two children will raise their families here, too. I am also a proud Army veteran. In 2008 I deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in 2013 I deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During my time in the service I had the privilege of serving alongside some truly great men and women. What I learned from them is that no soldier serves because of the medals or the “thank you for your service” comments from well-meaning civilians. Instead, it’s about service to one’s country and to the man or woman standing to your left and right. The idea behind this selfless service is that the community is more important than the individual. I try to apply this lesson in every aspect of my life, and when I can help someone, I try to do so.
As a veteran, I almost never bring my veteran status into a disagreement, as it strips non-veterans of their ability to disagree with me. However, I felt I had to write this letter because a small group of people have questioned whether it’s OK to build the new elementary school proposed in Gloucester on the site of Mattos Field, which is named for a soldier killed during World War I. As a living veteran, I couldn’t disagree with them more. I lost four friends in Iraq and Afghanistan, and if the field were dedicated to one of them, I would want the city to use it in a way that has the greatest positive impact on Gloucester citizens’ daily lives. What better way to do this than to build a school, which will benefit thousands of Gloucester children for the next 40 or 50 years? I can confidently say that the men I lost would feel the same way. Placing the school on a portion of the field dedicated to Joseph Mattos in no way dishonors his sacrifice — just the opposite, it would be consistent with the selfless service and sacrifice for the greater good that is every soldier’s calling.
When we build the new school at what is now Mattos Field, we will have multiple ways to honor and remember Pvt. Mattos. The new school plan sets aside 25,000 square feet of playground space for schoolchildren to enjoy. Why not name that playground after Joseph Mattos? City officials might also consider naming the new school the Joseph S. Mattos/Veterans Memorial Elementary School. We could even install a memorial to Gloucester’s fallen veterans on the site.
Rather than fighting against a new school for our children and our community, why not fight for the school to be built in his honor? That fight is one that I, as a veteran, can get behind.
Michael Laurie is a retired Army staff sergeant and Gloucester resident.