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Airman 1st Class Eric Frantz of Misawa Air Base, Japan, was a special guest at the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday. Frantz’s brother, Army Specialist Matthew C. Frantz, was killed Jan. 20 in Iraq.

Airman 1st Class Eric Frantz of Misawa Air Base, Japan, was a special guest at the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday. Frantz’s brother, Army Specialist Matthew C. Frantz, was killed Jan. 20 in Iraq. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Airman 1st Class Eric Frantz of Misawa Air Base, Japan, was a special guest at the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday. Frantz’s brother, Army Specialist Matthew C. Frantz, was killed Jan. 20 in Iraq.

Airman 1st Class Eric Frantz of Misawa Air Base, Japan, was a special guest at the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday. Frantz’s brother, Army Specialist Matthew C. Frantz, was killed Jan. 20 in Iraq. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Brig. Gen. Sam Angelella, 35th Fighter Wing commander at Misawa Air Base, Japan, honored five fallen servicemembers at the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday.

Brig. Gen. Sam Angelella, 35th Fighter Wing commander at Misawa Air Base, Japan, honored five fallen servicemembers at the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Members of Misawa Air Base’s 35th Fighter Wing Honor Guard fold the American flag at a Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday.

Members of Misawa Air Base’s 35th Fighter Wing Honor Guard fold the American flag at a Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Airman 1st Class Anthoni, right, and Airman 1st Class Christopher Miller of the 35th Fighter Wing’s Honor Guard at Misawa Air Base, Japan, pay tribute to servicemembers killed in the line of duty during the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday.

Airman 1st Class Anthoni, right, and Airman 1st Class Christopher Miller of the 35th Fighter Wing’s Honor Guard at Misawa Air Base, Japan, pay tribute to servicemembers killed in the line of duty during the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Airman 1st Class Eric Frantz, 21, plans to keep it simple this Memorial Day weekend.

His to-do list: “Enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the time off, maybe barbecue, and just smile, I guess.”

It’s a bittersweet grin, in his brother’s memory, an effort nonetheless to soak up life now that Army Spc. Matthew C. Frantz can’t. The counterintelligence specialist was killed Jan. 20 in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded and overturned his Humvee.

He was 23, engaged to be married, a gung-ho, life-loving soldier.

“His aspiration was to serve in the military,” read his obituary.

Now, says Eric, “I don’t want to take any day for granted.”

Eric, who is in the 13th Fighter Squadron’s aviation resource management, was asked to be a special guest at the base’s Memorial Day retreat ceremony on Thursday. He sat in the front row next to an Air Force colonel while the 35th Fighter Wing commander remembered Matthew and four other fallen servicemembers in an emotional tribute.

“There’s nothing I can say today that will ease the pain of the loss of your brother,” Brig. Gen. Sam Angelella told him, “but know that we are here grieving with you on this very special day, and if there’s anything we can do for you, we’ll be there.”

While Eric appreciated the gesture — “it’s pretty amazing that the base would remember me and remember my brother like this,” he said — the airman wants no special treatment.

That includes when it comes to deploying, to Iraq or wherever: “For my sake or my brother’s sake — we signed the dotted line, saying we would do this.”

Matthew talked about a military career since he was 7, Eric said. Right out of Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Ind., he joined the Marine Corps, a dream cut short by two knee injuries. The Army accepted him two years later, in March 2004.

Turns out, “the Army was the best fit for him,” Eric said.

His job gathering intelligence, talking with local villagers, “was just perfect for his personality,” Eric said.

“He couldn’t speak a lick of Arabic, but he ended up having a two-and-a-half-hour conversation with a mayor of this certain village. He was trying to pick up on what the guy said and the emotion that he said it with.”

A member of the 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., Matthew, along with four other Fort Campbell soldiers, was on one of those intel missions the day he died in Hawijah, Iraq.

“We’re not sure if it was the blast from the [improvised explosive device that killed him] or the fact that it rolled and rolled and rolled,” Eric said of the Humvee. Four perished, one survived.

Where once there were three brothers in the military, now there are two: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Frantz, 25, is on shore duty in the States.

Serving their country runs in the family. Eric’s father, James, spent 13 years in the Navy and now is in the National Guard. Two grandfathers fought during World War II. Eric was the brother who was supposed to go to college, he said, but the Air Force “just sort of happened.”

Matthew was an influence: “It was during his two years back (home from the Marines), all he would talk about was joining the military, joining the Army. I think it was something that he knew he could do that other people couldn’t or wouldn’t.”

The last time Eric saw Matthew was at his 2004 Air Force boot camp graduation. They talked all the time, though, over the phone and via e-mail.

“Whenever I was on ‘instant message’ with him, it was just like it always used to be, just brothers talking, you know,” he said.

Despite the hole left in his family, the ache in his heart, Eric is no less proud to serve his country.

“Now that he died, what he’s done — I’m not in so much the same situation, but I could be — you stand a little taller, you stand a little prouder, every time you put on that uniform.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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