Vietnam vet presents his medals to slain ROTC cadet
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 24, 2019
A Vietnam War veteran presented two of his medals posthumously to a University of North Carolina-Charlotte ROTC cadet who was killed when he tackled a gunman who opened fire inside a classroom.
Marine Corps veteran Thomas “Stormy” Matteo, a six-time Purple Heart recipient, gave his Bronze Star Medal with combat “V” device and a Purple Heart to Riley Howell in a shadow box, along with a plaque, as part of what he dubbed the “American Hero” award.
Police Chief William Hollingshed from Howell’s hometown of Waynesville, N.C., and Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher presented the plaque and framed medals to the slain 21-year-old’s parents and siblings on Wednesday, the police department said in a Facebook post. Matteo spoke to the family via a video call and “commended Riley’s actions as a true hero,” the post said.
“I felt compelled to move forward to do something on behalf of this young man,” he said in a video of the conversation posted on YouTube. “I could only think of my young Marines in Vietnam. I would have been so proud to have him as one of my men.”
Howell, who along with 19-year-old student Ellis Reed Parlier was killed in the April 30 attack on the Charlotte campus, is credited with saving lives by charging and pinning down the gunman. Four other students were wounded in the shooting.
“You should be very, very proud of your brother’s actions,” Matteo told Howell’s siblings during the call. “Believe me, you cannot conceive what it takes to make that decision.”
Authorities have charged 22-year-old Trystan Andrew Terrell with murder, attempted murder and other offenses.
Howell, who had been enrolled in his first year in Army ROTC, was awarded a medal for heroism by the school’s ROTC program earlier this month.
He had also been rendered military honors during his funeral on May 5, at which mourners were instructed to make the “I love you” sign in American Sign Language — index and pinky fingers up, middle fingers down and thumb outstretched, the Charlotte Observer reported. Howell had learned sign language as a child to talk with his uncle Matt, who is deaf.
During the ceremony, hundreds of hands shot up to make the sign toward heaven, the newspaper reported.
At the end of the call with Matteo, Howell’s mother put a hand to the camera, making the same sign, the video showed.