Matthew William Bancroft – Captain, United States Marine Corps

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Release

January 09, 2002


The Department of Defense announced that the following Marines were killed as a result of the crash of a KC-130/R aircraft in Pakistan today:

  • Command Pilot: Captain Matthew W. Bancroft, 29, of Shasta, California. He joined the Marine Corps in 1994.
  • Co-Pilot: Captain Daniel G. McCollum, 29, of Richland, South Carolina He joined the Marine Corps in 1993.
  • Flight Engineer: Gunnery Sergeant Stephen L. Bryson, 35, of Montgomery, Alabama. He joined the Marine Corps in 1983.
  • Loadmaster: Staff Sergeant Scott N. Germosen, 37, of Queens, New York. He joined the Marine Corps in 1982.
  • Flight Mechanic: Sergeant Nathan P. Hays, 21, of Lincoln, Washington. He joined the Marine Corps in 1999.
  • Flight Navigator: Lance Corporal Bryan P. Bertrand, 23, of Coos Bay, Oregon. He joined the Marine Corps in 1998.
  • Radio Operator: Sergeant Jeannette L. Winters, 25, of Du Page, Illinois. She joined the Marine Corps in 1997.

The Marines are assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 (VMGR-352), the “Raiders.” Elements of VMGR-352 are attached to Combined Task Force 58, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. VMGR-352 is home-based at the Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, California.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Courtesy of the United States Naval Academy:


Captain Matthew W. Bancroft, United States Marine Corps, was born on 6 July 1972, in Milwaukee, Oregon. After graduating from Burney High School in 1990, he attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating with a B.S. in Economics and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in May 1994.

In August 1994, Second Lieutenant Bancroft reported to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. Upon graduation in January 1995, he reported to Naval Flight Training in Corpus Christi, Texas. Promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant in May of 1996, he earned his coveted wings of gold in October 1996. He then received orders to MCAS Cherry Point where he trained in the KC-130 Hercules.

After completing initial training in the KC-130, First Lieutenant Bancroft reported VMGR-352, MCAS El Toro, California in October 1997. He served as Adjutant, Legal Officer, and Flight Duty Officer. In August 1998, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. While with the squadron, he participated in deployments to Jordan, Kenya, Egypt, and Kuwait, in support of Operations Edge Mallet and Eager Mace.

Captain Bancroft made the move with the squadron from MCAS El Toro to MCAS Miramar. After working in the squadron as a Flight Duty Officer, he then transferred to Marine Aircraft Group Eleven where he served as the fixed wing air coordinator.

Captain Bancroft was a Transport Plane Commander, Post Maintenance Check Pilot, and a Section Flight Lead. He had accumulated more than 1500 total flight hours with 1300 flight hours in the KC-130. He is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen, and their three children, Sean, Christian, and Bailey Madison.

Links to funeral service articles:

Marine pilot tearfully remembered: A hero to family, friends and nation
Family salutes fallen Marine: Pilot buried in Monterey

Contributions for Maddie Bancroft should be forwarded to the following address:

P.O. Box 786004
San Antonio, TX 78728-6004

Saturday, February 2, 2002
Family salutes fallen Marine
Pilot buried in Monterey

The 12-year-old stepson of a Marine captain killed in the war on terrorism choked back tears Friday as he spoke to more than 300 mourners at his father's funeral.
“I always used to ask him, ‘Why do you have to go?' He answered, ‘I am fighting for our country,'” said Christian Johnson, stepson of Captain Matthew W. Bancroft. “Before he left, he told me to take care of our family.”

Bancroft, 29, was one of seven Marines who died January 9, 2002, when the KC-130 tanker plane he was piloting crashed into a mountain near Shamsi, Pakistan. His wife, Mary Ellen, is a native of Castroville.

Bancroft was buried Friday with full military honors at the Monterey City Cemetery. His coffin was lowered into the ground after a 21-gun salute and a flyover by four Marine F-18 fighter jets.

The burial followed a two-hour funeral Mass at St. Angela's Catholic Church in Pacific Grove.

Bancroft leaves behind a wife, Mary Ellen, a 9-month-old daughter, Bailey Madison, and two stepsons, Christian Johnson and Sean Johnson, 13. They live in San Diego.

Friends recalled Bancroft's sense of humor and his devotion to both family and career.

“He absolutely loved his job and was very passionate about his job and about flying,” said John Knox, who was Bancroft's best man at his wedding in Carmel. “Matt wanted to do his part and to answer the call if the call came.

“He was very courageous in all aspects of life.”

Knox said Bancroft, who was nicknamed “Burney” after his hometown, had determination, integrity, courage and honor.

“I sleep better at night knowing men like Matt are out there defending our country,” said Knox, a fellow Marine.

Bancroft's widow chose to bury Bancroft in Monterey because of the couple's ties to the area, relatives said.

The Bancrofts were married in Carmel in October 1999 and frequently visited the area, especially because Mary Ellen's parents and other family members still live in Castroville.

The two met in 1998 at a Halloween party in the San Diego area.

In an interview earlier this month, Mary Ellen said the couple had planned to move back to the Salinas area before her husband was sent to serve in the war in Afghanistan.

Bancroft was born in Oregon and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy before entering the Marine Corps in 1994.

His parents, Robert and Beverly Bancroft, live in Redding.

Publication date: 20 June 2002

SAN DIEGO — Human error likely caused the January crash of a refueling plane over Pakistan in which seven San Diego-based Marines were killed, according to a report released Wednesday.

The January 9, 2002, accident was the deadliest crash involving American forces during the U.S.-led effort to eradicate Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Investigators found that the KC-130 flight crew likely became disoriented while attempting a night landing in difficult conditions at an airfield in southwestern Pakistan, where the plane slammed into a mountainside, a review by the Marine Corps concluded.

“The most likely cause of this mishap was that the aircrew … flew too far away from the field at too low an altitude,” according to a summary of the review.

The KC-130 was approaching Bardari airfield near the village of Shamsi about 8 p.m. local time when it was redirected to take a different approach because the military wanted to reduce jet noise over the town and helicopters were parked too close to the landing strip.

Witnesses said they saw the plane circle twice in attempting to land before it crashed and exploded at an altitude of 3,800 feet. If they had gained another 200 feet, they would have cleared the mountain, officials said.

Aircraft at Shamsi must maintain an altitude of 7,000 feet for maneuvering and 5,600 feet to commence a landing attempt.

Colonel Randolph Alles, commanding officer of the Marine unit that includes the KC-130 squadron, said it's possible the crew was flying at the lower altitude because they were attempting a visual landing, but authorities aren't sure.

The crew had no night-vision equipment.

“They thought they were clear of the terrain,” Alles said. “There was obviously a mistake in a high-demand environment.”

Weather conditions were good that night but there was no moonlight and the crew had only the lights along the airstrip to guide them, according to investigators.

“It was not LAX,” investigator Colonel William Durrett said, comparing the remote airstrip to Los Angeles International Airport.

Four people on the flight deck — the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer — had “collective responsibility” for maintaining a safe altitude, Alles said.

Pakistan had agreed in October to allow U.S. forces to use the base, located 50 miles from the Afghanistan border, as a forward staging area.

Since the crash, the Marine Corps has begun retrofitting three KC-130s with night-vision landing equipment and has plans to do the same to 10 more. The report also recommended upgrading the navigation system on the aircraft.

While the modifications would have helped the crew, “neither would have necessarily prevented the mishap,” the report concluded.

The squadron's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Carl Parker, said the finding of human error was “a bitter pill” for members of the squadron and families of the victims.

He said it was “safe to say” there was disbelief and anger among some family members.

Investigators acknowledged that the crew was experienced and well-trained, but operating under difficult conditions.

“All of the aircrew were at the top of their field,” said Colonel William Durrett, part of the investigation team.

The crew of seven from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego provided supply and aerial refueling support to the war effort.

The victims included Sergeant Jeanette L. Winters, 25, of Gary, Indiana, the first female military casualty in the Afghanistan campaign.

Also killed were Captain Matthew W. Bancroft of Redding; Gunnery Sergeant Stephen L. Bryson of Montgomery, Alabama; Lance Corporal Bryan P. Bertrand of Coos Bay, Oregon; Staff Sergeant Scott Germosen of New York; Sergeant Nathan P. Hays of Wilbur, Washington; and Captain Daniel G. McCollum of Irmo, South Carolina.

15 October 2004:

Clovis, Fresno County — Mary Ellen Bancroft's patience ended when she called a Santa Barbara business owner offering $5,000 scholarships for children of troops killed in the war and told him she had a daughter whose father died in Operation Enduring Freedom.

“He said, ‘What war was that?' ” Bancroft recalled as her 3-year-old daughter played quietly beside her. “I gave up after that.”

It was a sharp change from the days after her husband, Marine Captain Matthew Bancroft — “Mattie” to his family — died when his plane crashed in the mountains 50 miles from the Afghanistan border just three months after the United States went to war to oust the Taliban government.

Becoming Northern California's first casualty of the war on terror brought a frenzy of attention to his family, from hordes of reporters to an invitation from the San Francisco Giants to throw out the first ball on opening day.

Today, three years after a bombing strike launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, the eyes of the world are fixed on Iraq, a conflict that involves nearly 10 times as many troops and nearly 10 times as many casualties as the war in Afghanistan. For Mary Ellen Bancroft, the blur of attention that filled the days after her husband's death has been replaced by a blank, a public amnesia — even though more Americans, according to a Harris Poll released Tuesday, say the Afghanistan war was worth fighting than those who say the same about Iraq.

That's hard for Bancroft to reconcile with the letter she received last summer from Anheuser-Busch's Fallen Heroes scholarship fund, explaining that her children were not eligible because their father did not die in Iraq, and the company needed to “choose a beginning and ending point for offering our support.”

Bancroft insists she does not want for herself — she is living in a new home in Clovis (Fresno County) made possible by her husband's life insurance, her sons are within walking distance of their high school, and she has been able so far to be a stay-at-home mother for her little girl.

But she finds herself thinking about the other Marines who died on her husband's plane that day and about all the 141 U.S. troops killed so far in Afghanistan.

“I try to be realistic. Afghanistan — the mission was accomplished,” Bancroft said. “But if you're going to talk about the deceased, the people who died, shouldn't they all be included in the war on terror?

“I don't want him to be forgotten. I don't want any of them to be forgotten.”

California National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Michael Lyons is reminded of the war in Afghanistan every day. He is spending the third anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom at home in Sacramento, recovering from his 20th surgery for injuries he suffered in Kabul in the early part of the war. He knows of no special events taking place to mark the day.

And while he keeps a positive outlook, Lyons knows that some of his fellow Operation Enduring Freedom warriors feel left behind.

“There is that concern sometimes. Even with those that were injured,” the Sacramento man said. “The emphasis is on the injured coming in (from Iraq), not the injuries from two years ago.

“They believe that too much emphasis is put in Iraq, and we're still losing people in Afghanistan.”

Lyons arrived in Afghanistan in November 2002, finding a land of ruin and economic depression that reminded him of a biblical landscape, only with second-hand taxis and children bearing AK-47s.

“It truly seemed like the wild, wild West,” he said.

Lyons was assigned to building a new Afghan army, locating experienced individuals who could be trusted as generals as well as recruiting foot soldiers. The scale of the assignment was mind-boggling, yet within weeks he had a battalion of 800 performing maneuvers.

At the same time, Lyons was trying to present Afghans with a friendly American face, a counterpoint to years of Taliban and al Qaeda propaganda. He was impressed by the courtesy and culture of the Afghan people, who began welcoming the Americans into their homes and markets.

“They didn't consider you the enemy,” he said. “They were warm, receptive. I was invited to several homes to have tea and whatever they could scrape up for dinner, just to say thanks.”

But not everybody was welcoming. On December 17, 2002, still pleased by the previous day's hugely successful live-fire training with the nascent Afghan army, Lyons and National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Martin jumped in an old Soviet jeep and headed into Kabul for supplies.

As the afternoon lengthened, and the marketplace filled, Lyons recalls becoming nervous about the crowds. The soldiers loaded back into their jeep and were fighting their way through the crowds when their rear window shattered. Assuming they had been shot, they leaped from the jeep; unable to spot a shooter, they opened the vehicle again and began to climb in.

That's when they learned — too late — that the window had been shattered not by a bullet, but by a grenade, an old Soviet model wrapped in shrapnel. Lyons doesn't remember the sound but remembers the orange flash, the loss of feeling in his face, arms, legs — anywhere the body armor didn't protect.

Somehow, they managed to help one another into an Afghan taxi and, eventually, to safety.

“I figured it was do or die,” Lyons said. “I wasn't going to go quietly, that's for sure.”

It took five pints of blood to restore his body. One eye deflated and had to be pumped full of oil at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

But he lived to come home.

“You don't think C-130s are ever going to go down. You just don't think that,” Mary Ellen Bancroft said, as her 3-year-old daughter, Bailey Madison —

“Maddie,” like her father — helpfully brought her tissues from the bathroom. “C-130s are protected because they have no protection themselves. You don't send C-130s into harm's way.”

But it happened anyway, in January 2002, just weeks after Capt. Bancroft, a native of Shasta County, arrived in Afghanistan, when the plane he was flying crashed into the mountains near Shamsi, Pakistan, killing all seven Marines aboard. Military investigators later reported that the crash had probably been caused by human error.

It's an explanation Mary Ellen Bancroft rejects. Without witnesses, she said, nobody can be sure that mechanical error or enemy fire were not factors. Besides, she said, her husband always warned her that if anything ever happened to one of his planes, he, as the pilot, would get the blame.

The night before he died, Bancroft and his wife shared a phone call, talking about plans to install a television in the family Suburban. The line cut off; later, he sent her an e-mail asking her to kiss his little princess good night; she e-mailed back saying she was sorry the call ended before she had a chance to say “I love you.”

Now, she wonders if he ever saw that message.

Bancroft buried her husband in Monterey, although unidentified and mingled remains of all seven Marines also are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The only way she's sure he's dead is that they found his wallet; but even with that, sometimes she wonders.

Given a chance, Bancroft said she would have found some way to keep her husband off the plane that day. But that doesn't mean she resents what he was doing when he died — he believed in his mission, and so does she.

“Millions of people are living better lives because Matt did something,” she said.

Caring for her children carried Bancroft through the grief of death and the chaos that followed. Today, she is decorating a new home, trying to decide how many pictures and mementos of her husband's life to put on the walls, fearing the guilt she knows she would feel if she ever needed to take one down.

Looking at photographs of her dead husband, her face crumpled into tears, then grimaced with frustration at her own sadness. “You really think you'd be further along at this point, but you're not,” she said. “You really want the thoughts and the memories. But you don't want to feel like this every day.”

Yet even as she tries to move on with her own life and emotions, Bancroft wonders if the rest of the world is moving on too quickly, leaving her husband, and those like him, behind.

“There are still soldiers and Marines that are out there,” she said. “Do you really think people know they are out there?”

Lyons remembers well the parade of VIPs — including President Bush — who came through Walter Reed Army Hospital as he recuperated, thanking him and the other soldiers for their service. He remembers going on television as the war in Iraq began, telling his story and reminding people to support the deploying troops, whatever their personal politics.

Still, Lyons says he sympathizes with Bancroft and others who feel the nation has forgotten Afghanistan. But Lyons remembers. Though his body no longer sets off metal detectors at airports, he still bears the tattoo marks of shrapnel: tiny black dots in his skin. This week, work continued to restore the teeth he lost when metal tore through his face, and while he still can't feel anything from his left foot, it hasn't stopped him from running — or from returning to service.

Others will remember, too, he said — maybe not now, but when historians come to tell the story of Afghanistan.

“Later on, people will remember it for what it was,” he said. “Better or worse, without a doubt, a better country.”



  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 06/29/1994 – 01/09/2002
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 07/06/1972
  • DATE OF DEATH: 01/09/2002
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 03/12/2002

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