National | Religion & Jewish Life

Baltimore area mourns Jewish airman killed in Afghanistan

BALTIMORE (Baltimore Jewish Times) — On his Facebook page, Airman 1st Class Matthew Ryan Seidler posted the lyrics to one of his favorite tunes, “Opportunity” by Australian singer-songwriter Pete Murray.

“Your coffee’s warm but your milk is sour/Life is short but you’re here to flower,” the lyrics state. “Dream yourself along another day/Never miss opportunity.”

Those were words Matt Seidler lived by, his father, Marc, said in a tearful eulogy for his son on Jan. 17 at Sol Levinson and Bros. Funeral Home.

“He loved the Air Force. It was his calling. There was no second choice,” Marc Seidler said. “He was very happy with his band of brothers, and [being in the U.S. Air Force] reconnected him with the importance of family. He loved getting the letters and e-mails and packages.”

Marc Seidler went on: “I wonder where he got his bravery from. He never questioned his commitment to his country. We can all learn from Matt. Our freedom is something we should never take for granted.”

More than 500 mourners – including dozens of members of the military and the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. – attended the funeral service for Matt Seidler, an explosive ordnance disposal technician who died Jan. 5 of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive attack in Shir Ghazi in the Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan. The Baltimore-born Seidler, who was assigned to the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in El Paso County, Colo., died only two days after his 24th birthday.

Also killed in the attack were Senior Airman Bryan R. Bell, 23, of Erie, Pa., and Tech. Sgt. Matthew S. Schwartz, 34, of Traverse City, Mich. At least 1,472 service members have died in Afghanistan as a result of hostile action, according to the military.

A 2006 graduate of Westminster High School who became a Bar Mitzvah at the now-defunct Beth Shalom of Carroll County, Seidler entered active duty in November 2009. Before joining the Air Force, he took classes for a year in business administration at Stevenson University and started in a multimedia design program at Carroll Community College.

Standing at attention and holding American flags upright in the cold, drizzling rain, approximately 40 leather-clad members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle club lined the front of Levinson’s to pay respect to Seidler and his family, as well as to prevent potential disruptions by members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church. (Church members have shown up frequently at soldiers’ funerals across the country to voice their opposition to what they view as American tolerance of homosexuality.)

“We’re here to be there for the soldier’s family,” one Patriot Guard member said. “It’s the least we can do. Right now, they have to have their time.”

At the funeral, members of the military in the audience stood up as a high-ranking Air Force officer presented the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Air Force Combat Action Medal to Seidler posthumously.

On the podium near the flag-draped casket, Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro led the mourners in the 23rd Psalm. He noted that Seidler, known for his modesty and humility, “would probably be embarrassed by all of this.”

“When it comes to Matt, we have much to mourn for, and much to honor and celebrate,” Shapiro said. “We mourn his life just as he was starting to blossom and grow. But we are overwhelmed by the dignity and honor of a young man who gave everything for his country.”

The rabbi recalled Seidler’s childhood growing up in Finksburg, being a Cub Scout, attending a Montessori school and playing in old refrigerator boxes with his younger brother, Justin.

“He loved his Bar Mitzvah because for that one day he was hot stuff, the center of attention,” Shapiro said. “He was extremely proud of being a Jewish man. … He observed and respected the Jewish tradition.”

In addition, Shapiro said that Seidler possessed a curious, adventurous nature. “Matt loved to explore, whether it was Kings Dominion, Gettysburg or the [Maryland] Science Center,” the rabbi said.

Seidler also was creative and competitive throughout his life, whether he was playing Frisbee, pool or poker with friends or dreaming about his future, according to Shapiro.

“Matt always told people he planned to be a CEO when he grew up,” he said. “He had a quiet, reserved nature. It was hard for him to share internal thoughts.”

Joining the Air Force was an opportunity for Seidler – who loved dressing up in costumes as a kid and pretending to be a cowboy or pirate – “to be a real superhero,” Shapiro said. “He didn’t just join any unit. His job was to defuse and detonate bombs. He knew what he was getting into.”

Always a stubborn individual, Seidler utilized his nature for the common good. “Matt Seidler was strong-willed, full of convictions for his values, and stood up for what he believed in,” the rabbi. “He wanted to help his fellow soldiers and serve his country.”

The Air Force transformed Seidler. “He became a man,” Shapiro said. “He grew in confidence and comfort in himself, and developed a camaraderie of friends that he enjoyed. He became a lover of nature and the outdoors.”

The rabbi also said, “At least he found himself and lived his dream while he was alive. Matt never said negative things about anyone. He was an encourager and he led by example. He followed his dream and didn’t let fear determine his path. If he was here, he’d say, `Don’t cry for me. You’ve got to understand, I was doing this for you.’ ”

When last speaking with his son, Marc Seidler said, “He was the happiest he’d ever been in his life. He told us he loved us, and that’s not easy for a 24-year-old to say to his mother and father. … We were blessed to have him for 24 years. He was a good guy, with not a mean bone in his body.”

Matt Seidler, who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, is survived by his parents, Marc and Lauren Seidler; his brother, Justin Seidler; his grandparents, Pearl and Aaron Seidler, and Leda Hoff; and other family members, friends and extended family in the U.S. Air Force and EOD Unit. Contributions in his memory may be sent to the Matthew Seidler Memorial Fund, c/o Susquehanna Bank, Attn: John Cole, 532 Baltimore Blvd., Suite 202, Westminster, MD 21157; or the EOD Memorial Foundation (, Fisher House Foundation ( or the USO (