"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Something You'll Never Forget"

I first became acquainted with Lisa while standing in line at our Thursday night dinner at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church some 15 years ago. I liked her immediately. She was cute, had a great smile, was energetic -- and she loved talking about family. Ended up we had children the same age and who were in school together. Mary Beth and Robert were in 3rd grade, and Ginny and Marynan were in kindergarten at the time. And her oldest, Matt, was a couple of years older than my Charles. As for her husband, Gary, I learned he was a test pilot for Gulfstream; and a retired Navy pilot. I asked her how she dealt with such a "job" of taking off and landing on aircraft carriers, and her response stuck with me: "I imagine him going to work each day and sitting behind a desk."

Time passed and mine and Lisa's relationship grew just as did our children's. They went to summer camps together, they "hung out" at the Freemans on the river, they swam, played basketball, they sang in the children's choir, did youth, and more recently, spent 10 days on a mission trip in Costa Rica together. And in the meantime, Matt fulfilled his life-long desire and dream and left for the Naval Academy. In time, he earned his wings, piloted a C130, and settled into a life of serving his country in the United States Marine Corps.

Surely, on more than one occasion, Lisa must have imagined her son sitting behind a desk. But on Friday morning, August 7, 2009, Lisa and Gary got the visit that every parent fears and prays will never happen. Men in uniform showed up. Captain Matthew C. Freeman had been defending our country on a ground mission in the mountains of Afghanistan and, while gallantly leading his team under enemy fire, suffered a mortal wound at the hands of more than 80 insurgents.

Even as I write those words, I feel I must pause again and give reverence to such a heavy cost to this precious family...

When I told my dad that I would be attending the funeral service, he said, "That's something you'll never forget." And he was right. Riding through this bedroom community of Richmond Hill, one could feel the emotion that was hanging on every flag and expressed through every billboard. It was no doubt a community in deep grief for one of its own. The receiving line at the visitation stretched over three hours in length as friends and colleagues paid their respects. Even those who had no connection with the family or Matt waited their turn just because they "wanted to express gratitude for Matt's service and their condolensces to the family." It was an outpouring of community love and care.

Because we knew we had only seen a small portion of that outpouring the night before, Marynan, Todd, and I got to the church for the 11:00 service almost two hours in advance. By 10:00, the sanctuary was filled and guests were being directed to the overflow rooms. Our wait provided opportunity to reflect and watch. Soldier after soldier entered, many approaching the flag-draped casket and placing some small token of remembrance on its cover. At one point, an elderly man, bent with age, walked the aisle, and when directly in front of the casket, straightened himself to a state of attention, saluted, spoke a few quiet words, gave another salute, and then turned crisply on his heals to walk back to his seat. What a moment to remember.

Matt's bride of 3 weeks, weighted on her father's arm, led the family in the processional. The funeral service itself was perfectly tuned to Matt's personality. Pastors spoke of Matt's faith, a former teach spoke of his antics, and his uncle spoke of his love for his family. We sang Lord of the Dance, the Navy Hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save, and a song of resurrection: He Lives. The RHUMC did a beautiful job with In Christ Alone; and then, of course, at the end of the service was the soul stirring sound of the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace.

As the flag-draped casket left the sanctuary flanked by pall bearers wearing air force, navy, sailor and marine attire, not one person was left untouched by the magnitude of the moment. Outside were not only 100 flag holding Patriot Guard Riders standing at attention and warding off any who might dare come as war protesters, but also numbers of people had gotten out of their vehicles to pay their respects, many giving their children a visual of the cost of their freedom. The pall bearers saluted one last time and the hearse and family drove away as the sky opened up and the tear-shaped rain drops began to fall.

It was indeed a service filled with faith and hope which only echoed Lisa's very painful words to me on that fateful Friday afternoon: "Matt's resting in the arms of God now." And indeed he is. He had placed his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ at an early age. How appropriate that his bronze start citation would read in part: "He fought with bravery and determination while demonstrating unwavering courage in the face of the enemy." By putting on the full armor of God, Matt lived out in the flesh what was true of his spirit. And whereas he could say with Paul, "To live is Christ," he was just as able to say with confidence and now with reality, "To die is gain."

Capt. Matthew Freeman, our family salutes you. You will not be forgotten.

Combat Heroes SPC Lowe and Captain Freeman

Funeral service coverage by WASV-TV news

Funeral service coverage by WTOC news

Afghanistan memorial service


kpinga said...

Thanks for sharing Nancy!!! I was completely overwhelmed with the procession from the airport to the funeral home...I was on hwy 17 near Walmart...and when the family and hearse came by- there was a total silence that fell...hands over hearts, flags held high and tears streaming from faces- all ages, all races...some who knew him- most who did not. So moving... Karen Prevatt

Abiding Branch said...

As does ours! Thank you for sharing this moment with us!

Kellie said...

"Nancy, I did not realize that you knew them personally. My husband served in the Marines for 10 years, through the first Persian Gulf, and I have been crying through each of your posts. I am praying for his family, and I am humbled by the ultimate sacrifice that he gave to this country. PLEASE let us know if there is anything that we can for them. As you said, a military funeral is something that you never forget, nor will his sacrifice be forgotten!"

Kay said...

"A wonderful read. Thanks for posting."

Thena said...

Beautifully written.

Millie said...

Nancy, thanks so much for sharing this. Kirsten and I wanted so much to be there, but due to prior commitments, we could not make the trip. Matt was a wonderful young man when he was in my Youth group and he always challenged me to explain why and how and so forth, but he wanted to learn and he did. I know he is with his Savior and I pray for peace for his loved ones.
God Bless!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your beautiful words about a man I will never forget. I pray each day that his family will be able to find peace in the days, months and years ahead.

Erin said...

What a beautiful tribute... Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that I didn't know their family. They are obviously very special to have raised a son like Matt. You have such a way with words Nancy. I enjoyed reading what you had to say about his family and the picture that you painted with your words about that day. I cannot imagine what that family is going through.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

DJP said...

Very touching. I will link to it, later. Thank you for sharing. Thank God for the testimony to Christ.

beachbirdie said...

I found your post via a link from the Biblical Christianity blog.

I am deeply sorry for the terrible loss you have all endured. It would be completely unbearable without the comfort of knowing he is safely with our Lord.

Your tribute is beautiful, thank you for sharing.

小小彬 said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.

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