, Derry, New Hampshire

June 13, 2013

South School welcomes soldier back to class

Former South School student returns as a Marine

By Julie Huss

---- — LONDONDERRY — Matthew Cabezas headed back to class.

The Pvt. 1st Class Marine reservist paid a visit to his former elementary school last week to speak to fourth-graders and share stories about his life in the military.

Cabezas, 20, visited the school as part of a program on patriotism and the how the country honors its military. He was also a special guest last month when South School celebrated Memorial Day.

The Marine is a field radio operator and currently serves two weekends a month and two weeks a year as a Marine reservist. He also works at the Hillsborough Department of Corrections as a corrections officer.

He is scheduled to head to Afghanistan in January.

Cabezas said he was invited to the school for the Memorial Day observance and then came back to do a special chat with the fourth-graders.

“They will have a lot of questions,” Cabezas noted as he prepared to speak to several classes in the gym.

The young students’ inquiries came fast and furious.

“Why do you hold your hat that way? Did you learn to swim while training? What kind of food do they serve you?”

Cabezas said he holds his hat a certain way out of respect. He did a lot of swimming and diving, and the food isn’t always that great.

“Training is hard,” he told the students. “You go over obstacle courses, it’s a strict routine. You also had to eat your meal in order. Your salad, your main meal. Sometimes you get Jell-O.”

He told students about all his uniforms he was issued — about 11 total — that often were a bit snug when first presented to budding soldiers. Once boot camp ended, they fit great.

Then it was on to the shine on his shoes.

“Do you polish those shoes?” one student asked.

Cabezas said he was proud of the shine on his dress shoes, a spotless black sheen that took daily attention.

It was hard joining the Marines, Cabezas said. Coming from a close-knit family, it was tough to say good-bye.

“I’m not good at saying good-bye,” he said. “I had to keep my mother in the car because I couldn’t say good-bye.”

But Cabezas said he made fast friends and still keeps in touch with many from his early basic boot camp training.

Former teacher Karen Cawley recalled her former student as a bright boywho always wanted to read everything he could about the military and history.

“He just loved military books,” she said. “I kept pulling them out and he kept reading.”

Cawley said it’s enlightening for her as a longtime South School teacher to see one of her past students turn out so well.

“He is definitely a South School success story,” she said.