A smile seemingly wider than the Rogue River flashed across the south wall of Central Medford High School's gymnasium Saturday afternoon as color slides depicted the life and times of Marine Sgt. Matthew J. DeYoung.
There was the grinning boy with a mop of dark hair, a young man making a clown face, a serious Marine sighting down a rifle barrel, a happy husband holding his wife, Aisha, a proud father tenderly kissing his newborn daughter, McKenzy, now 3.
"We have lost someone very special in our lives," Aisha DeYoung told the crowd of more than 400 gathered to honor her husband's memory.
"But we have gained a bond with a family that will never be broken," she said, referring to the dozen Marines in dress blues, all of whom were comrades in arms with Sgt. DeYoung.
The Phoenix High School graduate from Talent was killed Feb. 18 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device during combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
He died in the arms of his best friend, Sgt. Lee Harris, of Medford. The two Marines hadn't met until they joined the Corps.
Following the memorial, DeYoung was buried with full Marine Corps honors at the Eagle Point National Cemetery. Flags across Oregon were flown at half-staff all day Saturday in his memory.
"Sergeant DeYoung was an outstanding Marine who served his state and his country with honor and distinction," Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a prepared statement.
Although she was at times overcome with emotion, his widow talked about the joy they shared in their five years of marriage. She spoke of his big smile and fun-loving nature — and his seriousness of purpose when it came to the Corps.
She called him a "perfect father, husband, friend and Marine."
"I lost my best friend," she told the assemblage. "But we had our baby girl. That was the best gift I could ever have."
She recalled that he had called her on Valentine's Day from Afghanistan to tell her how much he cared, then teased her about wanting a baby boy. Currently a nursing student at Los Angeles Harbor College, she told him that was fine with her, once she finished nursing school.
That was the last time they spoke.
During the ceremony, she and his siblings asked the Marines to join them in a toast to his memory. A bottle of Jameson's whiskey was opened for the fellow Marines DeYoung had fondly called "the pirates," and they clicked glasses in his honor.
"He was the most wonderful person I have ever met in my life," Aisha DeYoung said.
Officiating at the ceremony was Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Mark Dalton of Medford, who is also a minister. He told of being contacted by the young Marine's mom five years ago.
"She told me her son is in training in the Marines but has met this cute girl and wants to marry her," Dalton recalled of the December 2005 conversation.
"I said, 'I'd love to do it.' She said I would only have a half-hour to talk to him before I married them."
But he noted it was a good union that produced a young family.
"I received another phone call a couple of days ago that Matthew was coming home," he said, adding, "It wasn't what I had anticipated."
Noting that the word "hero" is a label used too freely these days, Dalton said DeYoung was the real deal.
"In the last nine years, I've heard that word ad nauseam," he said. "But I believe the sacrifices Sgt. DeYoung made, and what he meant to family and comrades ... made him a real hero.
"He set an example for all of us."
After reciting a portion of the 23rd Psalm, Dalton noted it was an appropriate passage for the Marine.
"Even though he did walk in the valley of the shadow of death, he did not fear evil," he said.
While speaking at the ceremony, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Hood River, called DeYoung a "Marine's Marine," noting he re-enlisted in 2009 after four years in the service to join a reconnaissance unit.
The Marine had already served two deployments to Iraq before re-upping, he noted.
"He wanted to be the best of the best, and he was," Walden said.
Nor was the IED that took his life on Feb. 18 his first encounter with the weapon that has claimed so many American lives, Walden said.
"Just a little over a month ago, he suffered a concussion as a result of an IED explosion," he said, adding that the Marine was impatient to leave a military hospital after spending more than two weeks there.
"In fact, he told his sister, Mandi, that his buddies were going to give him the business because he was taking showers and eating candy bars," Walden said, adding, "A Marine's Marine."
During his more than five years in the Corps, the sergeant earned more than a dozen military honors: Purple Heart with a gold star, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Good Conduct Medal with a bronze star, National Defense Ribbon, Afghan Campaign with a bronze star, Iraq Campaign with two bronze stars, Global War on Terrorism, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with two bronze stars, NATO ISAF-Afghanistan award, Navy/Marine Corps Parachute Insignia, Rifle Expert 4th Award and Pistol Expert Award.
In addition to his wife and daughter, DeYoung is survived by his mother, Teddi DeYoung, of Phoenix; father, Bruce DeYoung, of Ivyland, Pa.; brother, Bryce DeYoung, 19, of Klamath Falls; sister, Mandi DeYoung, 24, of White City; sister, Taylor DeYoung, 17, of Phoenix; 5-week-old niece, Adelyn Wilkins, of White City and extended step families.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.