A fitting honor: Cousin of soldier killed in training climbs Angels Landing

A fitting honor: Cousin of soldier killed in training climbs Angels Landing

Jonathan Turcotte carried an Army flag to Angels Landing in Utah to honor his cousin, the late Matthew Turcotte.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – As friends and family grieved the loss of Spc. Matthew Turcotte this week, one cousin of the late Army soldier found a special way to honor his memory, hiking as close as he could to where “the angels land to say goodbye.”

Senior Airman Jonathan Turcotte, a Woonsocket native, memorialized his one-day, nearly 700-mile car trip and grueling five-mile hike to and from Angels Landing in Zion National Park in Utah with an emotional message for his departed cousin.

Matthew, a 20-year-old North Smithfield native killed during a live ammunition training exercise at his base in Colorado Aug. 23, was newly married, and left behind two sisters along with parents Raymond and Liza Turcotte. Hundreds turned out for his funeral last Saturday morning at Providence’s Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, including Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, and dozens of officers from the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, where his father serves as a captain.

The service was one of many ways the soldier, who joined the military following his graduation from North Smithfield High School in 2015, has been honored over the past two weeks. Locals held a vigil at the high school on Aug. 27, and flags across the state were flown at half staff in Matthew’s honor.

Cousin Jonathan, a 21-year-old member of the U.S. Air Force stationed near Ogden, Utah, said goodbye to Matthew in his own way, driving approximately 340 miles to Zion National Park to take on the hike to Angels Landing. The steep trail along the Colorado Plateau climbs 1,488 feet upward, offering views of Zion Canyon.

“It is an extremely dangerous and grueling hike,” said Jonathan’s father and uncle of the lost soldier, Ron Turcotte.

Jonathan reportedly completed the hike in about 150 minutes, in 90-degree heat, wearing combat boots instead of hiking boots, and carrying an Army flag on a post. Toward the peak, the young airman had to abandon the post and carry the flag on his shoulders because he needed both of his hands for the climb.

Once at the top, Jonathan took a picture and addressed Matthew in a message on Facebook.

“I hiked this Army flag up here for you man. Isn’t it beautiful?” he wrote. “Definitely my favorite spot in the world. This place is called Angels Landing so I thought this was about as close as I could get to seeing you again one last time. I know you would have done the same thing for me. The drive there was long and the trek up was difficult but I’ve never done anything so important before.”

“My favorite part was the people I’ve never met before cheering me on as I was going up,” Jonathan said.

“Man I just wish you were with me to see it, maybe I could give you one last hug before you were taken from the world. I love you Matt,” he said.

It was a message that resonated with many, who shared the post and their reactions.

Jonathan, meanwhile, climbed down, and drove the 340 miles back home the same day.

His father described the boys, who shared among many things, careers in the military, as, “two cousins without brothers, who were as close as can be.”

“They had a love for each other rarely found between brothers, never mind between cousins,” Ron said. “Two great kids. Two great men.”

Matthew Turcotte was buried with full military honors at Inman Family Cemetery in Burrillville.