Matthew Axelson

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Matthew Axelson
Matthew G. Axelson.jpg
Axelson in 2005
Birth name Matthew Gene Axelson
Nickname(s) "Axe"
Born (1976-06-25)June 25, 1976
Cupertino, California, U.S.
Died June 28, 2005(2005-06-28) (aged 29)
Kunar Province, Afghanistan  
Buried at Glen Oaks Memorial Park, Chico, California, U.S. (39°42′32″N 121°48′34″W / 39.708790°N 121.809307°W / 39.708790; -121.809307Coordinates: 39°42′32″N 121°48′34″W / 39.708790°N 121.809307°W / 39.708790; -121.809307)
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service December 2000 – June 2005[1]
Rank PO2 Collar Silver USN.png Sonar Technician Second Class

US Navy SEALs insignia.png U.S. Navy SEALs


Global War on Terrorism

Awards Navy Cross ribbon.svg Navy Cross
Purple Heart BAR.svg Purple Heart Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation ribbon.svg Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
Navy Good Conduct ribbon.svg Navy Good Conduct Medal
Spouse(s) Cindy Oji Axelson (m. 2003)[2]
Relations Donna Axelson (mother)
Cordell Axelson (father)

Matthew Gene "Axe" Axelson (June 25, 1976 – June 28, 2005) was a United States Navy SEAL who was killed in the War in Afghanistan. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions and valor during Operation Red Wings, in which he was killed. He served in that operation along with Michael Murphy, Daniel Dietz, and Marcus Luttrell. Dietz and Luttrell were also awarded the Navy Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Navy good conduct medals, where Murphy received the Medal of Honor.

Early life and education[edit]

Axelson was born on June 25, 1976 in Cupertino, California, to Donna and Cordell Axelson. His father served in the Vietnam War. He graduated from Monta Vista High School in 1994 and attended the California State University in Chico, where he earned a degree in political science. It was at Chico that he met his wife, Cindi.


Axelson (right) with Michael Murphy.

United States Navy[edit]

Axelson was drawn to the military (and the SEALs in particular) because he desired a challenge for himself. Axelson enlisted in the United States Navy in December 2000, entering basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes. After completing Sonar Technician Surface (STG) "A" School, he was selected to attend Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training and graduated with Class 237 in Coronado, California. After BUD/S, Axelson attended Army Airborne jump school, SEAL Qualification Training and SEAL Delivery Vehicle School. He reported to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 in December 2002 in Hawaii.[3] He was deployed to Afghanistan in April 2005.[1]

Operation Red Wings[edit]

Main article: Operation Red Wings

On June 28, 2005, SEAL Team 10 was assigned to kill or capture Ahmad Shah, a high ranking Taliban leader in the Hindu Kush mountains.[4] The SEAL team comprised Michael P. Murphy, Marcus Luttrell, Danny Dietz and Axelson.[5]

Their position given away by locals supportive of the Taliban, the SEALs were engaged in a fire fight by Shah and his men. During the fire fight, Axelson was shot in the chest and head but continued to fight alongside Luttrell until a blast from a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) separated them. Along with injuries sustained from the blast, Axelson died of bullet wounds to the chest and head on a tree which is now known as "Axe's Tree."[6] When U.S. Navy personnel arrived to retrieve his body for burial, they found that it was a few hundred yards away from the RPG blast location. Axelson was reported by Luttrell to have had three magazines remaining when the blast took place, however, when his body was found, he had only one magazine remaining, which indicated that Axelson continued to fight even after the blast.

Along with Axelson, Michael Murphy and Danny Dietz also died during the fight. Luttrell managed to survive his injuries and acute hardships with help from local Pashtun villagers. For their heroism in combat, Axelson and Dietz were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the U.S. Navy's second highest award for valorous actions in battle.[4][7] Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor.[5] Luttrell, the only survivor of the operation, was also awarded the Navy Cross.[8]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Axelson was awarded the Navy Cross, Purple Heart Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with bronze campaign star, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.[9]

W. Stanley Proctor did a work for the Veteran's Memorial Park in Cupertino, California called The Guardians. It is one of the first sculptured memorials to those who served in the War in Afghanistan.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16] It is a large sculpture of two Navy SEALs killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in 2005. It was dedicated by Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter in November 2007.[11] The sculpture depicts Matthew Axelson and James Suh in full combat equipment.[17] The event inspired the war movie Lone Survivor.[17] Proctor offered his opinion to the Tallahassee Democrat that it is "my best work yet".[17] Because of his scrupulous devotion to realistic depictions of humans, Proctor was the personal choice of Axelson's family for the project, and they made that recommendation to the committee.[18]

Personal life[edit]

On December 27, 2003, Axelson married his wife, Cindy Oji, in Sacramento, California.[1][2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 2013 film Lone Survivor, Axelson is portrayed by American actor Ben Foster.[19] Axelson's widowed wife, Cindy, upon seeing the film, praised Foster's performance, saying he did a "phenomenal job".[2]


  1. ^ a b c Thermos, Wendy (July 24, 2005). "Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, 29, Cupertino; Navy SEAL Killed in an Ambush in Afghanistan". Los Angeles Times. California: Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Bitton, David (January 10, 2014). "Promising life together cut short". Appeal-Democrat. Marysville, California: Appeal-Democrat. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  3. ^ Williams, Gary. SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN. p. 134. 
  4. ^ a b "News Article: Two SEALs Receive Posthumous Navy Cross Awards". Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  5. ^ a b "Summary of Action". 2005-06-28. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  6. ^ Dorell, Oren (2006-11-22). "SEALs met with disaster in Afghanistan". USA Today. Usatoday.Com. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  7. ^ Lum, Curtis (September 14, 2006). "Two Navy SEALs honored in D.C.". The Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  8. ^ Rich, Motoko (August 9, 2007). "He Lived to Tell the Tale (and Write a Best Seller)". New York Times. New York: New York Times Company. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  9. ^ "Matthew G. Axelson Biography". Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  10. ^ "Afghanistan-Iraq War Memorials – A Category". Retrieved September 8, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "About the artist: W. Stanley "Sandy" Proctor". W. Stanley Proctor bronzes. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Bronze Gators". What’s News. Washington and Lee University. June 18, 2010. Retrieved September 6, 2014. 
  13. ^ Li, Anna; Reis, Julia (November 12, 2012). "Silicon Valley honors veterans". Peninsula Press. Retrieved August 20, 2014. 
  14. ^ Johnson, Emily (January 16, 2014). "The Movie, Lone Survivor, Has A Local Tie To Tallahassee" (Video). WCTV. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  15. ^ "SEALs in bronze: Tallahassee artist memorializes 'Lone Survivor' warriors". February 24, 2014. Retrieved September 5, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Afghanistan-Iraq War Memorial – Memorial Park – Cupertino, CA – Afghanistan-Iraq War Memorials". October 29, 2011. Retrieved September 6, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c Hinson, Mark (February 22, 2014). "SEALs in bronze". Tallahassee Democrat. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Matt Axelson Family Interview". Military Movies & News. May 12, 2010. Retrieved September 6, 2014. 
  19. ^ Shirey, Paul (November 30, 2012). "First set pics from Peter Berg's Lone Survivor show off Mark Wahlberg, Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch, and more in uniform". JoBlo. Joblo Media, Inc. Archived from the original on December 2, 2012. Retrieved December 2, 2012. 

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