Theresa Mathis was heading out the door to go to church last Sunday when the phone rang.
"Hello, is this the mother of Pfc. Duncan Scott Mathis?” the man asked.
She immediately fell to the kitchen floor and began to cry.
"I need to let you know your son is OK, but he has been injured,” the man told her. "Your son is brave and courageous and leader among men.”
Nineteen-year-old Marine Pfc. Duncan Scott Mathis had been rescued after falling down a 50-foot well while on a pitch dark, night mission in Afghanistan. His legs, ankles and right arm were broken.
Mathis said the man continued to reassure her that her son was OK and doctors were treating him at that very moment. Duncan Mathis is now recovering in a hospital in Germany where he’s been for a week.
"The breaks are serious,” she said. "We are looking at a long-term recovery. It’s going to take a while to heal. But he will absolutely rejoin his unit and he cannot wait till that day comes.”
Two months before, Duncan Mathis had been deployed to Afghanistan from Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville. He was scheduled to return home sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Mathis said after she received the news Sunday, she still went to church. It was the place she needed to be.
"I fell into the arms of my church family,” she said. "First Christian Church has been amazing through it all.”
She also said the Wilson community has been amazing and reached out to the family as well.
Duncan Mathis’ unit was on a night patrol mission. The targets for the mission were known for setting traps and building IEDs, his mother said.
"They were moving into the area very carefully,” she said. "Duncan felt rocks shifting under his feet. He tried to move backwards and the rocks gave out. He began to slide and then began to free fall 50 feet.”
But Duncan Mathis didn’t make a sound as he fell and while he was lying injured at the bottom of the dried up well.
"Because it was a night mission and they were close to their target he had to remain silent,” she said. "He did so until the mission was accomplished. That was the most important thing to him.”
When his unit regrouped, his line mate realized Duncan Mathis was missing. He "doubled back” to find him, she said. His line mate laid near the well the entire time to secure the area.
"His legs took the direct impact of the fall,” she said.
Duncan Mathis’ unit did their best to try and rescue him out of the 50-foot well. But eventually an Air Force three-man team rescued him from the dark hole. Mathis said her son’s unit lowered water and talked to him while waiting.
She said the ground around the well had been loosened so anyone who happened by would fall in. While she doesn’t know exactly how long her son was down in the well, it was at least a couple of hours.
"He went in during the dark of night and came out in daylight,” she said.
Memorial Day reunion?
Duncan Mathis could be back to the states by Memorial Day, his mother said, adding that she is waiting on the call that will reunite her with her son.
"My bags are already packed,” she said.
Mathis said he could possibly be transported to a Navy medical hospital in Norfolk, Va., due to the specialized orthopedic units. But she isn’t sure quite yet. His mother said the staff at the hospital in Germany have been great.
"They have treated his wounds,” she said. "They are an amazing staff who are very kind to a mom in tears on the phone. They have answered every question. They understand what a warrior is going through during a battle.”
On Friday, first-graders at Lee Woodard Elementary created get well cards for the Wilson Marine. Mathis picked them up and can’t wait to get them to her son who will love them, she said.
His mother said while she is glad he is safe, she can’t stop thinking about the others who are still in Afghanistan fighting for their country each day. She also said she is very close with her son’s unit because a lot of them often came home with her son when they were on a weekend break. She said many of his "brothers” are from across the country.
"I had a Marine invasion at my home,” she said with a laugh. "I know them all. I got to know his unit very well. Memorial Day is about remembering those guys who are in the sand fighting every day for our freedom. We need to bring them all home. My son is here, my son’s friends are there. We need to tell the story of those who are wounded, who have made a sacrifice. They remind us of all the countless others who are still out there fighting.”
Duncan Mathis, who graduated from Beddingfield High School where he was in Junior ROTC, will turn 20 next month. The young Marine knew he wanted to be in the military since he was toddler.
"I wanted him to join the military to see the world and never go to war,” she said in tears. "But if there is someone I want on the wall protecting my freedom, it’s my son. He’s my hero.”
She said one of the things her son enjoyed most about his deployment was meeting the children. He would often walk down the streets in Afghanistan and give them a small toy. He also requested that his family and friends send little trinkets like toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals.
"When they’re walking through town the children come up to them,” his mother said.
A Facebook message
As Mathis shared her son’s story Friday to The Wilson Times, she was also chatting with him via instant messaging through Facebook. He had a few words to relay.
"The war in Afghanistan is a very tricky subject,” he wrote. "Some people hate it; others support it. While I’ve been over here, I’ve seen stuff I never knew I’d get to see at the age of 19. I saw funny stuff like a 4-year-old herding a pack of camels and scary stuff like IEDs exploding. But the stuff that is going to stay with me the longest, and has helped me through the most severe pain I’ve ever felt, are my friends. I had some of the best times with them and will never forget them. They have been beside me through the worst times and gotten me through it. We aren’t friends downrange, we are brothers. I will never be surrounded by a better group of men in my life than the boys in Fox Company 1st Platoon.”
He also has a sense of humor.
"So, this weekend I will be having a hot dog and an ice cold sweet tea on them,” he wrote.
The Marine continued typing, when asked what coming home on Memorial Day would mean to him.
"It means I will be in the a/c and have cold drinks, while my boys are going on eight-hour patrols in 140-degree weather with a 65-pound pack of gear on,” he wrote. "And well, that just don’t sit right with me.”
He then quickly wrote back another sentence to add.
"I’ll be back devil dawg’n real soon!” he said.