Army Spc. Matthew Cooke swung onto a motorcycle Saturday afternoon and rode off to begin what he said will be a new chapter in his life.
Cooke survived five bullet wounds in the 2009 Fort Hood shootings. He was 30. Cooke is finally moving home with his parents in Norwood, in Stanly County, after being honorably discharged from the Army a few days ago. He spent the past four years recovering at Fort Hood, where he was shot three times in the back, once in the groin, and a bullet grazed his head.
To welcome him back, some well-wishers and his family greeted him at the American Red Cross Emergency Disaster Operations Center in Charlotte, along with about 20 Patriot Guard Riders who escorted him home.
The Patriot Guard Riders is a national group whose members ride motorcycles and aim to protect dignity and respect for military families, usually at funerals.
One rider blared Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.”
“Now down here in the South, on a Sunday, we get to hear some famous words, but we’re gonna do it today,” Evan Parton, the N.C. Patriot Guard Riders road captain, said to his riders.
“Gentleman!” he yelled, pointing his finger in the air. “Start your engines!”
The cavalcade roared to life.
Before the ride, Cooke said he’s still recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder but that he’s been overwhelmed by support from family, friends and strangers.
He put his hand over his chest. “It’s really close to my heart,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte said a few words and invited Cooke to be his guest at the next State of the Union Address.
Cooke said he’s glad to escape Texas’ brutal heat and looks forward to fishing at his favorite spot, Lake Tillery.
He focused on healing for the past few years. “It’s been like going through hell,” he said. “I’m still recovering every day.”
The Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan, was found guilty and sentenced to death last month. He killed 13 people and wounded more than 30.
Cooke said the recent shootings at the Washington Navy Yard were upsetting.
“It brought back everything again,” he said. “I’m not trying to nail Homeland Security, but it kind of ticked me off a lot. ... Hopefully Homeland Security can do the security checks and do the right thing to prevent this from happening again.”
Cooke joined the Marines in 1998 and worked as a legal clerk, but he returned to civilian life. After a couple of years, he joined the Army. He served two tours in Iraq and was preparing for a third deployment when he was shot at Fort Hood in 2009.
Cooke and his mother, Diane Frappier, said this welcome home with the Patriot Guard Riders is giving them closure to a painful chapter.
“All I want is peace,” Cooke said. “And that’s what closure is, it’s peace.”