ROLLING PRAIRIE, Ind. Months before he was scheduled to come home, a Rolling Prairie native was killed in a helicopter crash off the coast of England Tuesday.
According to the U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Dale E. Mathews was one of four killed during a training mission when his chopper crashed into a marshy area of a nature reserve.
“We feel cheated,” said Mathews’ stepfather, Larry Gussman. “And, I say that because Dale was in Desert Storm, he was in Iraqi Freedom. And, he got through all of that, and then to die in a stupid silly training exercise, we just feel cheated.”
Mathews joined the military shortly after turning 19-years-old. He’s served all over the world, even volunteering to go to Iraq.
“It wasn't that they selected him, he had volunteered,” said friend Cathy Rea. “Then, they changed the qualifications and he wasn't going to be able to go. And, he went and fought to be able to go.”
It was obvious Mathews was passionate about his job. But, he decided after nearly 20 years in the military, he wanted to retire.
Mathews was scheduled to come home in March. And, he planned on staying home for good.
“We were planning his homecoming,” said friend Lisa Rea. “The kids were all waiting for Uncle Dale to come home had everything planned out what they wanted to do with him when they saw him.”
Family members say losing Mathews is harder knowing how close he was to finally coming home.
He dreamed of moving to Union Pier, Mich. and spending afternoons kite surfing with his kids.
“I can’t hold him, I can’t touch him, I can’t say, ‘Hello, how are you?’” Gussman said through tears. “I've waited four years, when he went overseas to England, for him to come back home. In four months, he would have made it.”
Mathews was stationed at the Air Force base in Lakenheath, where he lived with his wife and two stepchildren. He also has two kids who live in Oklahoma.
“My dad was amazing,” said Mathews’ 14-year-old son, Keelan. “I'm real proud of him. He's an amazing man and I hope to follow in his footsteps and be half the man he was.”
A memorial fund is setup for Keelan and the rest of Mathews’ children at 1st Source Bank. Contributions can be mailed to: Dale E Mathews Memorial Fund, 848 West Michigan Street, New Carlisle, IN 46552.
Gussman says Mathews will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Funeral arrangements are pending.
The Air Force released a statement Wednesday, in part, saying "we continue to think of the loved ones who are experiencing such a tragic, sudden loss.”
On Thursday, Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly praised Mathews for his service.
"It is heartbreaking," Donnelly said. "We have extraordinary people that serve our nation all around the world who keep us safe and the reason we have the opportunity to go to work, be with our family, sleep safely at night is because of devotion of men and women who serve in the military."
The crash is still under investigation.