Blacksburg, Va. – On the morning of April 16, 2007 Air Force Cadet Matthew J. La Port just wanted to learn to speak French in his class at Virginia Tech; unfortunately another student, Seung Hui Cho, had other plans. When Cho, now more common called “The Virginia Tech gunman” forced his way into the classroom, Cadet La Port charged the gunman in an attempt to save the lives of his fellow classmates and died after being shot seven times.
The Sophomore from Dumont, NJ was posthumously honored this past Thursday by the United States Air Force with the Airman’s Medal for his heroic act. According to the Air Force Personnel Center he medal is awarded to “any member of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly nation who, while serving in any capacity with the United States Air Force after the date of the award’s authorization, who have distinguished himself or herself by a heroic act, usually at the voluntary risk of his or her life but not involving actual combat”. It is the highest award an Airman can receive when not involved in actual combat.
Matthew La Porte was a member of Virginia Tech’s Corp of Cadets Class of 2009 and Air Force ROTC, planning a career in military intelligence. He was also a member of the Armed Forces Special Operations Team, and played tenor drum in the Corp of Cadets’ regimental band, the Highty-Tighties and Southern Colonels cadet jazz ensemble. He was one of 32 students, faculty, and staff killed in the shooting spree.
According to a report in the Collegiate Times Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Keith Gay, La Porte’s assistant professor of Aerospace Studies has worked for the past 8 years gathering the documentation necessary for the medal to be awarded. Colonel Cameron Torrens, Commander of Air Force ROTC Detachment 875, credited Gay with “plowing through” the evidence so it could be presented to the Air Force chain-of-command where it was quickly approved.
“It was really hard to figure out exactly what happened in the very beginning. Folks weren’t allowed to be interviewed. There were a lot of traumatic experiences going on,” Torrens said. “When they finally were able to talk to eye witnesses and rescue folks, they found that eye witnesses saw Matthew get up and barricade the door while the instructor was telling everyone else to get to the back of the room.”
The medal was presented at La Porte’s final resting place, Westview Cemetery in Blacksburg. La Porte’s parents Barbara and Joseph, along with his sister Priscilla were on hand to receive the award. Also present were the 1300 members of Virginia Tech’s Corp of Cadets.