When Matt Stovall talked about opening schools in Iraq and providing clean drinking water to the people there, his parents knew he had found his niche in the military. They couldn’t understand his drive, but they were always there to offer support, as was the rest of his family.
Sitting in her living room Tuesday morning surrounded by framed pictures of 2nd Lt. Stovall from childhood, to graduation and young adulthood, Ellon Stovall said her youngest son viewed his work differently than they did because their main concern was his safety.
Matt Stovall, 25, died Sunday in Mosul, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded as his convoy passed.
“It was a way to serve his fellow man and that’s what he wanted to do,” his mother said.
When Stovall left for Iraq in September, his father Buck told the family he would never come back. Somehow, he might have known.
“Daddy has been sad for a whole year,” said Stovall’s older sister, Marsha Vance. “He’s a worrier any way. It’s just his personality.”
Matt told his father in June that he was proud of the work that was being done in Iraq. Knowing that Buck watched the news daily, he was concerned that the media didn’t report the positive things.
Mrs. Stovall said her son loved the service so much that he wanted to go full-time after he completed his college degree.
“When he first went into the officer training program, it was just like it was something he really loved. He knew it then,” she said.
The Stovalls came close to losing Matt on more than one occasion when he was a child. A congenital heart defect brought several close calls as he was growing up, once staying in intensive care for 11 days in a row. Medication soon got his problem under control.
“I just thought since we got over that this wouldn’t happen, but I guess the Lord had other plans,” Mrs. Stovall said. “We had knocked at death’s doors four or five times when we thought he was not going to get alright.”
Despite the sadness, the thoughts of Matt’s smiling face and fun loving personality provides some solace to his family.
“Matt wouldn’t like this,” Vance said, of the sadness and tears. “If he were here he would be saying something to make us laugh.”
Vance said her brother was young at heart especially when he was around kids. He loved the Fair and once took a pouting child he didn’t know to ride the Zipper because no one else would.
Ellon Stovall said her son touched many lives in his short time: young, old and in between. A Mason, he befriended many of the older men in the county.
He and wife Natalie took their young son, Walker, to the zoo when he was home on leave in June. Family members described them as the perfect couple.
“You see them together and you know it’s right,” said Robin McClellan, a cousin. “She always supported him.”
Monday was Natalie’s birthday and she received a card from her husband a few days earlier, family members said. She was able to tell him she enjoyed it in a telephone conversation.
Vance said the couple usually talked about once a week but last week Matt called and talked with his wife on four different occasions. He died exactly one year to the day that he told his wife he was going overseas.
Cathy Tolbert said the news of Stovall’s death had devastated her sister, Ellon, and her family.
“They were so close. They are a close family. Ellon and Buck had such good relationships with their kids and the kids with each other. This is hard when you are so close knit,” she said.
She said Matt had a positive outlook on life and could turn a bad situation into a good one.
“He had a lot of live for,” she said.
His mother said she never thought that she and Buck had a special child, destined to do something good and great.
“All my children are special. I just hoped when Walker came along Matt would get to see him grow up but now he’s not going to get to,” she said.