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Fairhaven in shock at death of hometown US Marine

Lance Corporal Matthew R. Rodriguez died this week in Helmand province.
Lance Corporal Matthew R. Rodriguez died this week in Helmand province.US Marines

FAIRHAVEN — He was a popular teenager on the cusp of manhood, who had planned to marry his sweetheart and start another chapter of his life.

That is how residents in this heartbroken coastal town of 16,000 are remembering Lance Corporal Matthew R. Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Marine who this week became another tragedy of war in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon said Rodriguez, a combat engineer, died Wednesday "while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan."

He had enlisted Aug. 20. 2012, and was assigned to First Combat Engineer Battalion, First Marine Division, First Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., according to the Marine Corps.

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Rodriguez has been awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the NATO Medal-International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan.

As his family members traveled to Dover, Del., for his remains, Fairhaven residents and officials, who a day earlier paused for a moment of silence, were planning to assist his family and honor Rodriguez's service and sacrifice to the country.

Fire Lieutenant Brian Messier said the Fire Department is standing by to assist in any way possible, including by providing honor guards or raising a flag over the ladder truck.

"The information is very preliminary because we don't know when he will be brought back here,'' said Messier. "The family is dealing with those things now."

Charleen Riley, whose son graduated from Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School with Rodriguez, said she has been on Facebook and other social media organizing people to line the streets of Fairhaven on the day of his funeral.

"We want them to stand by as he makes his final journey,'' said Riley. "We should collectively gather to salute him as his family drives by."

Riley, a retired corporal in the Marines, said her son is devastated about the death, as is the rest of the town. "My son is in total disbelief. He is totally in shock,'' said Riley. "In a war that is supposed to be over, our men and our women are coming back in body bags. It's not over."

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Since news of his death began trickling into barbershops, pet stores, local diners, and on the streets of this town, residents were coming to terms with Rodriguez's death.

"He was a great kid,'' said a man who answered the phone at Rodriguez's old high school.

Superintendent Lindo Enos said Rodriguez graduated from the high school's plumbing shop last year.

"He was a wonderful student and a good friend to many. Of course we are deeply saddened by this news,'' said Enos, who said she reached out to his family and offered condolences and help.

He will be honored at the school's annual memorial ceremony in June, Enos added.

Rodriguez was engaged to a Fairhaven woman. Friday, the family of his fiancée declined to comment. A woman who said she is the sister of his fiancée said the Rodriguez family will release a statement soon.

At the family's home, no one answered the door. Cars out front had yellow ribbons that read: "Keep My Son Safe."

Michelle Martins, running the cash register at the Pretty Paws Bakery, said she attended the same school as Rodriguez.

She learned of his death on Facebook, where his best friends had been posting old photographs of Rodriguez.

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"It was really sad,'' she said.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons .