By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
November 11, 2012
Matthew P. Manoukian, a captain in the U.S. Marines, came from a family committed to public service and the law. Both his parents are judges — his father, Socrates Peter Manoukian, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge, and his mother, Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, a state appellate court justice. His uncle, William Bamattre, was the fire chief of Los Angeles for 11 years.
Manoukian grew up in Los Altos Hills in Northern California with a keen sense of history and how America has provided a safe harbor for refugees. His paternal grandfather survived the Armenian genocide in Turkey, started a new life in the United States and made sure Matthew understood the costs of unchecked oppression, relatives recall.
"As a little kid, he always was sticking up for his friends. If friends were getting pushed around, he would jump in the middle of it," his father said. Later, as a young man, Matthew would wonder why the United States did not act more forcefully in the 1930s and '40s to protect European Jews from the Nazis.
At his alma mater, St. Francis High School in Mountain View, school President Kevin Makley recalled Manoukian as a good student and "a hard-nosed football player but the kind who knocked the opponent down and then reached over and helped him get up."
His background, along with a strong taste for physical action and adventure, was an important influence on his desire to join the Marines, something he first talked about when he was 7 years old.
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, made him want to immediately drop out of his political science studies at the University of Arizona and enlist. But he was told he needed knee surgery first for a football injury and another operation to remove a spinal cord tumor, his father said.
After recovering from those surgeries and earning a bachelor's degree, the 6-foot-3 and muscular Manoukian joined the Marine Corps in 2006 as an infantry officer and was deployed twice to Iraq.
In 2007, he suffered a concussion in a blast from an improvised explosive device but hustled to save a fellow Marine nearby by applying a tourniquet on the wounded man's leg, officials said.
He later attended elite training before being assigned to the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, based at Camp Pendleton, and served in Afghanistan. He also was a first degree black belt in the Marines' martial arts program.
Manoukian, who learned Arabic, hoped the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan would help establish law-abiding societies and "provide confidence to the locals who were being intimidated by various factions there," said his uncle William Bamattre. He also worked hard to keep his unit safe, added Bamattre, who recalled seeing parents of younger Marines thanking Manoukian during Camp Pendleton visits.
In early August, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article about improved security in Afghanistan. In it, a Marine special operations leader named Matt, later identified as Manoukian, expressed pride that village boys had stopped pretending to be Taliban insurgents and instead played policemen. "Matt" likened the change to the old American West, saying: "It wasn't cool to be a sheriff. It was cool to be a bank robber until Wyatt Earp came along and started making a name for himself and for lawmen."
On Aug. 10, Manoukian was having a pre-dawn meal with Afghan officials during the holy month of Ramadan in Helmand province. A renegade Afghan police officer opened fire, killing Manoukian and two other Marines, according to an account provided by the Marines.
Manoukian's military decorations included two Purple Hearts, two Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medals and two Combat Action Ribbons.
Manoukian, who was 29, was planning to attend law school next year after shifting to the Marine reserves and possibly to work later as a public defender. Besides being influenced by the family tradition of serving as lawyers, he saw in Iraq and Afghanistan how the law provides a society "access to justice and freedom," his mother said.
A memorial service at St. Francis High attracted more than 2,000 mourners on Aug. 18, and a scholarship fund was established in Manoukian's memory there. The death "impacted this entire community, not just the school," school President Makley said.
Manoukian had a longtime relationship with his high school girlfriend, Melissa Graybehl. In addition to his parents, other survivors include his two younger brothers, Michael and Martin.
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