Mike and Sheila Flocco
Matthew Flocco of Newark usually went home to Delaware on weekends. On Sunday evenings, his father, Mike, would drive him to the train station and see him off. His mother, Sheila, usually stayed home.
But for some reason, she went with them that night. She waited with Matthew on the platform, gave him a big hug when the train arrived and told him, “I’ll see you next weekend.”
On the following Tuesday, Navy Aerographer’s Mate Matthew Flocco, 21, was killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Sheila Flocco calls his death “a wound that has never actually healed.”
“Sometimes I hear a song on the radio,” she says. Anything could trigger the grief. “Even a commercial on TV one time.”
Matthew wasn’t supposed to be at the Pentagon that day. He had adjusted his work schedule so he would be free to attend a Dave Matthews Band concert later in the week. “It was just in God’s plan all the time,” Sheila says.
Matthew Flocco joined the Navy soon after graduating Newark High School in 1998. He was a good student and a good athlete. Laid back, “He would do anything for anybody,” Sheila Flocco says.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, she was home, checking in with a Navy moms’ support group online before work, when a friend sent a message directing her to turn on her television. As she did, she saw the second plane strike the World Trade Center south tower. As she walked into another room, she heard a newsman announce that another place had struck the Pentagon. She dropped to her knees—Matthew’s office had just moved into a new operations center there.
Sheila repeatedly tried to call him. She took the unanswered calls as confirmation that he was busy helping with search and rescue. Mike tried to tell her he wasn’t coming home, but she refused to believe it until, the next Friday, two Navy officers knocked on her door. They had recovered his remains earlier that day.
A mentor from the Navy escorted Matthew’s body from Arlington, Va., to Dover Air Force Base, then to Mealey Funeral Home on Limestone Road, where the Floccos held an open service. Matthew was interred at All Saints Cemetery in Newark. Sheila recalls the funeral procession as “stretched all the way down Kirkwood Highway.”
In the months after, neighbors would help her pass the time. Matthew’s friends would often take her to lunch. But the grief remained.
Mike, a sheet metal worker, arranged through his union to work on reconstruction of the Pentagon. He spent nearly eight months living in the area. “He wanted to go, but I don’t know how he did it still, to this day,” Sheila says. Virginia Family Services paid for Sheila to stay with him in a nearby hotel. She occasionally visited the work site, where she could sense Matthew’s presence. The Floccos did many media interviews, but after a couple months, it became too much. The Floccos went home.
She continues to take part in grief support groups through the Navy, but takes breaks once in awhile. News of Osama bin Laden’s capture and death in May gave her “a big sense of relief,” but she notes that al-Qaida took more than her son. It took his chance to marry and start a family—and it took a parent’s joy in seeing that. But there is good to emerge, as well. Newark High School will soon award the 10th anniversary Matthew M. Flocco Memorial Scholarship of $1,000.
Sheila notes that she doesn’t see American flags fly as much as in the months after the attacks. People don’t ask her as often about the sticker on her car that commemorates Matthew’s life and death. “Unless it’s in the news,” she says, “I think everybody just wants to put it in the past.”