I first met Matt Funicello at Buck McKeon’s College of the Canyons Leadership Forum last December that featured General Richard Cody, in which Matt posed a question to the general. Matt informed me that he and his unit were involved in the initial Iraq War invasion so I automatically knew that we must meet for an interview. At the Corner Bakery, Matt, a large lumberjack sort, struck me as being a good natured gentle giant.
Matthew J. Funicello was born December 19, 1981, in Glendale, California, but grew up in the San Fernando Valley graduating from Chatsworth High School June 16, 2000. Matt was a volleyball player in high school, but as a junior he boldly signed up in United States Marine Corps’ Delayed Entry Program. Matt’s Dad, Daniel served in the U.S. Navy as an aircraft mechanic serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hancock during the Vietnam War, hence, Matt was infatuated with the military from childhood so serving his country was a natural choice for him.
‘Pride, Devotion, Loyalty’
Following high school graduation, Matt went to San Diego for Boot Camp and then Camp Pendleton for the Marines’ School of Infantry. After a two week Christmas leave of absence, Matt was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, known as 29 Palms in San Bernadino County. Matt joined the 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 1st Marines Division. This unit’s fame goes back to Guadalcanal in WWII, the Korean War’s Chosin Reservoir, 1968 Tet Offensive at Hue, South Vietnam, Task Force Ripper in Desert Storm, Iraq, Task Force Mogadishu, Somalia, and the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. Matt was a proud Marine and fully embraced his unit’s motto, “Pride, Devotion, Loyalty”, which Matt has tattooed on his right bicep.
As an infantry rifleman, 29 Palms became Matt’s home base for his entire USMC service however he was deployed several times including Okinawa in February 2002 that included short stints to Thailand and Japan. Six months later, he was back to 29 Palms until January 2003 when he and his 1st/7th Marines flew to Kuwait to prepare for the initial Iraq invasion. This was no surprise since they were at 29 Palms when those radical Islamic terrorists slammed our commercial airplanes into Manhattan’s Twin Towers, D.C.’s Pentagon, and into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Matt and his buddies were highly incensed and were ready for payback. They already received every bit of training necessary for combat in Iraq, including Cold Weather Training in Bridgeport, California. It was late January 2003 when Matt arrived at Camp Ripper, Kuwait for acclimation training until March 18th when they moved to an assembly area for three days. The USMC unleashed its mighty artillery on an Iraqi observation post near the border blowing it to smithereens thus enabling Matt’s convoy to easily cross the Kuwaiti border into Iraq on March 21, 2003. Their Iraq invasion was on.
Uday and Qusay
Once into Iraq, Matt’s 1st/7th Battalion took a number of Iraqi oil fields before they were intentionally set on fire by Iraqi Mujahideen guerrilla fighters who promptly fled as the Leathernecks arrived. It wasn’t long before a massive sand storm erupted coupled with the Mujahideen launching a full scale assault led by Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay. There was so much confusion with lack of visibility that it was short lived, but Matt recalls how chaotic it was. Matt said, “There was so much sand that I had sand in places on my body I didn’t know existed.” Matt’s first tour of duty in Iraq lasted 10 months and was highlighted by fighting all the way into Baghdad resulting in a number of wounded Marines and two killed by accident. Matt witnessed the famous toppling of Saddam’s statues in Baghdad.
While serving in Iraq, even at the tender age of 20 years, Matt was well aware of Iraq’s extraordinary history and the history that he and his fellow Marines were creating. One of Matt’s unit’s exploits was capturing Saddam’s palace in historic Babylon that sat along the Euphrates River in the Sunni Triangle. In ancient Mesopotamia, Babylon was a kingdom and was the largest city in the world circa 1700 BC. In October 2003, Matt’s tour ended and he returned to 29 Palms which occurred without celebration. However, the good news he had a two week leave of absence to visit his family.
Sunni Triangle Action
Matt was due for his discharge in August 2004 while his unit was scheduled to return to Iraq, so Matt extended his service to stay with his fellow Marines. Having them return to combat without him was a notion he simply would not tolerate and to say that his family was displeased would be a huge understatement. In early August 2004, Matt found himself in the Sunni Triangle and specifically in the town of Husaybah in the Al-Anbar Province. Husaybah was a major crossing point from Syria into Iraq by Mujahideen fighters and Matt’s unit was assigned as a blocking force. During Matt’s eight month tour of duty, they engaged in numerous fire fights and dealt with daily rocketing and mortar fire. The Mujahideen knew the Marines would not enter Mosques, hospitals and schools so they took advantage resulting in numerous USMC casualties. However, their combat rules of engagement were soon adjusted and the Marines began annihilating the Mujahideen fighters.
LA Deputy Sheriff
In March 2005 Matt departed Iraq and returned home moving to Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. Matt emotionally stated, “To this day I so regret leaving the U.S. Marine Corps”. After receiving his Honorable Discharge, Matt landed a job at Oak Tree Gun Club in Santa Clarita before becoming an LA Deputy Sheriff in December 2006 graduating from the Sheriff’s Academy in June 2007. Matt’s first assignment was on guard duty at Peter Pitchess Detention Center for two years and then as a patrol deputy out of Palmdale.
Charges Dismissed and Expunged
Matt greatly laments that he was accused in 2013 of assault under the cover of authority resulting from a 2011 incident. Matt was offered and accepted a plea agreement and pled no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge which was not an admission of guilt. He believed this was his best solution for him and his family’s future. Finally, one year later in 2014 Matt’s Conviction for Battery was dismissed and replaced with Disturbing the Peace. Six months later, all charges were fully dismissed and his record was expunged. For the last five years, Matt has attempted everything possible to turn his life around as his highest priority was insuring security for his young family. Throughout this excruciating ordeal, his wife and family members were a rock for Matt as they stood by him every step of the way. Matt said, “I would rather face an outnumbered ten to one firefight in Iraq than face a nightmare like this.”
Back in his 11th grade, Matt met classmate Misty Eberle with whom he was immediately attracted and their long term friendship ensued leading them to live together in Chatsworth. Matt said, “As our friendship became closer and our relationship blossomed, it was exhilarating”. By the time Matt left the Marines, they were fully in love and on November 22, 2008, they were married at Knollwood Country Club after Matt’s sterling proposal. Months earlier, Matt casually commented, “Hey Misty, ya wanna get married”. Matt cherishes his wife Misty and their two terrific sons, Daniel and Ryan.
Honorable USMC Service
Matt is currently employed as a District Safety Officer at College of the Canyons while pursuing his Associates Degree in Journalism and plans to host a talk radio show or work in the media industry. Misty works with autistic children as a teacher’s assistant at Santa Clarita’s Emblem Academy. Matt, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, is profoundly proud of his Marine Corps combat service and having served in the Iraq War. Thank you for your honorable service, Matthew J. Funicello.