Clovis News: Sports

Another ex-Buchanan student dies in Mideast wars

2:02 p.m: The mother and stepfather of Marine Sgt. Matthew Abbate are in Dover, Del., to begin making funeral arrangements for the former Buchanan High School student who died while fighting in Afghanistan.

Karen and James Binion of Fresno should return Sunday, but without their son's body, said Lisa Maria Boyles, an associate editor of The Bee's opinion pages who is acting as spokeswoman for the family.

Funeral services are pending, Boyles said, because the military informed the Binions that Abbate's body won't be released until next week.

Once funeral arrangements are made, the plan is to bury him in Snelling in Merced County, where his grandparents and other relatives are buried, Boyles said.

Abbate, 26, who served with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, died Thursday of a head wound. He is the eighth former Buchanan High student killed while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As a youngster growing up in Fresno, Matthew Abbate pretended to be Rambo while playing with his soldier toys and hoped to be a U.S. Marine some day.

Abbate, 26, a Marine sergeant, died Thursday while fighting in Afghanistan, just hours before President Barack Obama's surprise visit to U.S. troops at Bagram Air Field.

Abbate's family was notified of his death Thursday night.

"It's surreal. No one believed it. ... It's something that happens to other people's families," said his half-sister, Valerie Binion, 17, of Fresno.

"But I think he'd be glad he died instead of someone else. That's why he did what he did, so someone else didn't have to."

Abbate died of a head wound, Valerie said. No other details about his death were immediately available. He served with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines based in Camp Pendleton.

Friends have posted dozens of comments about Abbate's death on Facebook. Wrote William Cotea, "I always thought Matt would be okay. This is hard. Matt was such a big part of all of our lives ... like everybody's brother."

Valerie, who was nine years younger than Abbate, had heard the family stories about his fascination with the Marines and how he would play Rambo with his G.I. Joe action figures.

"He just always figured G.I. Joe was a Marine. He was always running around in boots" playing soldier, she said.

She remembers a brother who would playfully toss his little sisters onto the couch and help them play videos of "Veggie Tales" cartoons.

Abbate attended Buchanan High for three years before graduating from Sierra Charter School in the Fresno Unified School District.

Clovis Unified School District declined to talk about Abbate until the Department of Defense issues official word of his death, district spokeswoman Kelly Avants wrote in an e-mail to The Bee.

"We are also hesitant to become too involved in the media coverage of his tragic death because we don't want this to become a story about another Buchanan student, when obviously he had many other school and personal affiliations in our community," she wrote.

Abbate is the eighth former Buchanan High student killed serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The principal of Sierra Charter remembers Abbate fondly.

"He was a fantastic student. He got fantastic grades when he got to us," said principal Lisa Marasco. Abbate graduated with nearly straight A's, she said.

Each senior is asked to write a statement to be read during the graduation ceremony, said Marasco, and Abbate's thanked his family, friends and teachers for his success in school -- and noted that he planned to enlist in the Marines after graduation.

His humor showed through: He said he enjoyed "skateboarding -- and, of course, studying," Marasco said with a laugh.

Abbate left home at 18 "to go find himself," his sister said, doing odd jobs, living in Hawaii and working on cruise ships.

By age 22 when he joined the Marines, "it was almost like he'd graduated from college. He'd grown up," Valerie said. Her brother wanted a career in the Marines or possibly the Merchant Marine, she said.

Abbate was on his third deployment, after serving in Iraq and on training assignments in Australia, Okinawa and other locations, according to Lisa Maria Boyles, associate editor of The Bee's opinion pages and a friend of the family. She is acting as a spokesperson for the family.

A few weeks ago, Abbate sustained a minor injury from an improvised explosive device but did not require treatment outside the battle zone, Boyles said.

Abbate's mother and stepfather, Karen and James Binion, live in Fresno. His father, Sal Abbate, and stepmother live in the Bay Area. Abbate is also survived by half-sisters Valerie, and Kelly Binion, 16, of Fresno; sister Dominica Abbate of Washington; and half-brother Elliott Abbate of Santa Cruz.

Abbate was married to Stacie Rigall of Clovis. They have a 2-year-old son, Carson.

Abbate's family members are expected to travel to Dover, Del., soon to meet a military plane transporting Abbate's body. Services are pending.