Christopher Burkhardt and K.C. Fockler never got to meet Stephen Matthew "Matt" Mills, but they plan to thank the fallen Navy SEAL on the tennis court.
The two members of the Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach are organizing a benefit tournament, scheduled for Aug. 28, in memory of Mills. His mother-in-law is a longtime club member, and his widow was born in Newport Beach and spent many a summer vacation there.
"Everyone is always looking for ways to express our gratitude to our Armed Forces," Burkhardt said. "This one just hit us square in the face, coming so close to our membership."
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer Mills, 35, a newlywed father of a 17-month-old boy, belonged to the Navy's "best of the best." He was one of 22 SEALs killed aboard a U.S. Chinook helicopter downed by enemy fire inAfghanistan on Aug. 6.
A news release from the Pentagon confirmed that Mills, a Texan stationed at Hampton Roads, Va., was one of 30 Americans killed in the chopper's downing, which also killed eight Afghans. According to the Los Angeles Times, the death toll from the crash was the highest for U.S. forces in a single incident during the 10-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
Mills also was part of the Navy special forces most elite unit, Team 6. Its commandos made headlines in early May when a Team 6 group killed Osama bin Laden during a nighttime raid on the Al Qaeda leader's hideaway at Abbottabad,Pakistan.
Matt and Keri Mills were married on April 29 in his home state, celebrating their union with their son, Cash.
"He was a prince of a man," said Cindi Gore, Mills' mother-in-law. "He's from Texas and from a warm family. He treated my daughter with love and respect."
Although Gore was aware that her son-in-law had been with the Navy SEALs for 14 years, he did not talk about his classified missions.
"You would never know what he did for a living," she said.
Her 29-year-old daughter and Mills met four years ago at Coronado, the home base for the Navy's Special Warfare Command, where a mutual friend introduced them.
"He was a hero," said Connie Murphy, Gore's mother and Keri Mills' grandmother, who lives in Newport Beach. "He was doing what he was trained to do and he loved it."
Non-club members are welcome to watch the tournament at the club, 1171 Jamboree Road, and make donations. The tournament will open at noon Aug. 28 and feature an honor guard from American Legion Post 291.
People also are welcome to bring along American flags, organizers said.
Keri Mills, who is expected to be at the tournament, could not be reached for comment Thursday at her home in Virginia Beach, Va.
Proceeds from the tournament will go toward Keri and Cash Mills. Club members have already signed up for 60% of the tournament's 120 available slots, Fockler said.
"That is the ultimate sacrifice in my eyes, giving your life for your country," he said. "He and his family should be remembered in some way by our tennis community."
If You Go
What: Palisades Memorial Tennis Tournament to benefit SEAL Team 6's Matt Mills
When: Noon to 3 p.m. Aug. 28
Where: Palisades Tennis Club, 1171 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach.
How To Help
To donate funds for the families of Matt Mills and other Navy SEALs killed in the Aug. 6 downing of the U.S. helicopter, visit the Navy Seal Foundation's website, nswfoundation.org.
FOR THE RECORD: