Matt VanDyke fought in the Libyan revolution with his fellow freedom fighters all the way from Benghazi to Sirte, where Gaddafi found his well deserved end in October 2011.
He was wounded and captured in Brega on March 13 2011, and was detained in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison for 5.5 months, until Tripoli’s ‘zero hour’ in August 2011.
Once freed, he immediately rejoined the Ali Hassan al-Jaber Brigade to help finish off the ruthless regime. Here’s his remarkable story.
The house was decorated with historical photos of Omar Al Mukhtar and the Italians at the time of his capture.
Zorica, Khadija Al Mukhtar and the other ladies (not me) provided wonderful Libyan refreshments including stuffed fried potatoes, cheese-filled savories and a beautiful cake filled with fruit and nuts, and of course juice, coffee and tea.
Members of the Voices 4 Libya Benghazi branch attending were Laujain Idriza, Hawa Al Masdour, Halima Trablsi, Abdelaziz Al Shaari and Zorica, Khadija Al Mukhtar, her husband Sharif Burahil, her brother Awad Al Mukhtar and nephew Yousef Al Mukhtar, my son-in-law Mohamed Al Gazzah, and myself. Of course Matthew was there with his (and our) friend Masoud the guitar-playing revolutionary.
Matthew is back in Libya trying to work out the details of his charity work and the V4L group is hoping to help him where possible, and learn from him too. The conversation included Matthew talking about his experiences during the war and his hopes to follow up with a book and film. He writes a Freedom Fighter Blog blog with lots of information, analysis, and insights.
We discussed how difficult it is to try to establish a charity considering the lack of organization in Libya at the present time, but the necessity of getting this done. Zorica and I told Matthew about the Bubbles group and how much you all did during the war and are still doing now. We told him how much we admire your dedication and all the time you spend helping Libya.
We mentioned how important Gerhard‘s reports were to us. Zorica told of how she and her husband relied on his assurance of safety when deciding to return to Libya after a short break out. I told him about my daily reports to friends and family relaying what Gerhard told us on the blog, which kept our spirits up during the days and months of waiting for Tripoli to be freed and then Sirte. We told Matthew how amazing you all are, Michael, Charlotte, Ilya, Mark, Glen and everyone else who have dedicated so much time and effort to Libya.
While he was imprisoned, Matthew didn’t know what we all did. He didn’t even know that NATO was involved. He thought that the guards were probably coming to kill him the day that he was released by the revolutionaries, having no idea at all the revolution was almost won. He told us of his amazing mother, who did what so many mothers here did. She drove him to the airport, sending him to war in Libya, what an amazing supportive mother! Strangely his capture seemed to have brought about an unbelievable, Hollywood type happily-ever-after for his mother and father, but that is his story to tell.
Matthew mentioned how difficult it was in Abu Salim, although there was no physical torture, the psychological torture was horrible. He said that he was pretty tough, having been through a lot in Afghanistan and Iraq and that had helped him get through his difficult times and recover after being freed.
He stated that the Libyan war was a just war and the involvement of the international community was, for once, based on doing the right thing. All agreed that it will take some time for Libya to completely transition into a democracy, but we all have faith that there is a better future for the Libyan people.
Masoud reminded us of something very positive in the Libyan character. During the revolution, he had some arguments with the more religious fighters about the wisdom of playing music on the frontlines. As you all know, he persisted in playing his music to keep up the spirits of the fighters. This reflects on the situation in Libya now. There will be discussions and some noisy arguments, but no Libyan has any more tolerance for anyone making his or her decisions for him or her.
We know that you couldn’t be there in person, but everyone of you were there in our hearts and minds. We here in Libya know that we are very fortunate that you all chose to support Libya, and Zorica and I are personally very happy that we have come to know you through the blog. We hope that someday soon, you will visit us here in Benghazi and we can show you our beautiful city which you helped save. Of course, Zorica has done her best to provide full coverage in photos, which are presented on this image gallery.