As the nation pauses this Veteran’s Day to honor the brave men and women who served our country, there is a permanence about that day for Matthew Brown. The date is forever etched on his body and mind, literally.
The former Marine was fighting in Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah when he was shot by a sniper. The date: November 11, 2004.
“Guess where I got shot? Yes, you are thinking it. The butt,” says Matthew, who interjects an unexpected sense of humor when talking about his near death on the battlefield. “I can’t feel the front of my legs or knees and my hips are shot. I had to learn how to walk again at age 20.”
And those are only the physical scars. Matthew suffers from PTSD, mild traumatic brain injury and faced severe bouts of depression.
“I just turned 28 and I’ve lived a lifetime really quickly.”
Matthew holds nothing back when talking about his story, or writing about it, either. Whether he’s describing being homeless, self-mutilation, alcohol or drug abuse, the former Marine willingly delves into the darkest days of his life.
“Back in 2004, no one talked about their feelings,” recalls Matthew. Art therapy programs and other alternative therapeutic treatments didn’t exist. So how did he end up a writer?
“Sheer dumb luck,” he says.
After taking part in the Wounded Warrior Games in 2010, Matthew got an email asking if he wanted to share his story with a personal historian who was writing a book. He started jotting notes on paper. They came out in scattered thoughts and short snippets because it was easier on his brain that way.
The historian wrote to Mathew saying she was impressed with his free form poetry. And a poet was born.
No more playing dead
This game is for keeps
No more childish laughter
No more racing around in spirited fun
No arguing that I shot you
Now we run till we hurt
Literally running for our lives
We Were Little,” by Matthew Brown
For Matthew, writing didn’t just release deeply buried emotions; it gave him a new perspective on life. He now works with the nonprofit Love Your Veterans (loveyourveterans.org) to help other veterans suffering from PTSD. “I almost died on the battlefield, I am alive for something. I have a purpose. Maybe writing is my purpose. And helping guys get out of their funk.”
While Matthew says writing gave him a purpose in life, he credits his wife for saving his life. Witnessing his spiraling, self-destructive behavior, she made him choose between prescription pain killers and her. He chose her.
They now have two beautiful small children and live near Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Matthew hopes to one day return to his first passion, music. In his central Pennsylvania high school, he played a little of everything including the saxophone, tuba, bass drum, and snare drum. He says he stopped playing when he joined the Marines, “It would have been hard to lug around a sax, and no one wants to listen to a saxophone player.”
But these days, people do want to hear – and read - what Matthew Brown has to say.