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Matthew Bears help children remember lost loved ones
freeman bear 2
Jennifer Frausto, center, holds son Levi Shannon Frausto and one of three Matthew Bears her family received from The Matthew Freeman Project for her brother, Army medic Spc. Shannon Chihuahua, who was killed in November 2010 in Afghanistan. Behind Frausto is her husband, Riley Frausto. In front of her are her sons Bruce, 6, and Colton, 4. - photo by Jeff Whitte

It’s been nearly four years now since Army medic Spc. Shannon Chihuahua was killed during an insurgent attack in the Wataphur District of Afghanistan.
Thursday at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church, Chihuahua’s three nephews were given a reminder of their uncle: three bears made out of his uniforms.
“It’s something tangible they can hold and snuggle up to and remember their uncle by,” said Jennifer Frausto, Chihuahua’s sister and mother of the three boys, the oldest 6, the youngest an infant. “Because they can’t walk up to him and give him a hug.”
The bears are the creation of Lisa Freeman, who in 2010 founded The Matthew Freeman Project in honor of her son, a Marine captain killed in action in Afghanistan in August 2009.
She made a similar bear out of her son’s uniforms for her grandson and intends to make them out of the uniforms of the fallen service members of any Gold Star family who asks for one.
Freeman calls the bears “Matthew Bears” in part because of her son but also because of “the Apostle Matthew, who taught us … ‘blessed are those who mourn for they shall become comforted,’” she told a group of children attending day care at RHUMC before presenting the bears to Bruce, Colton and Levi Shannon Frausto.
The Matthew Bears, Freeman believes, will help the Frausto children and, as more are made for other Gold Star families, others in the same situation cope with the pain.
And it helps her deal with her own loss, she said. She finds it therapeutic.
“Working with this … it’s very much therapy,” Freeman said. “I can just feel Matt smiling. I know he’d be happy that this is something we were doing for children.”

A Marine and a medic
Freeman, 29, grew up in Richmond Hill and went to church at RHUMC, which has a playground out back that also bears his name.
He played tennis at Richmond Hill High School and was a Naval Academy graduate, USMC pilot and had been married less than a month when he was killed while clearing a building under heavy fire.
Freeman volunteered for ground duty because the Marines needed more boots on the ground. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with the “Combat V” for valor, and his story is well known in Richmond Hill and beyond.
Chihuahua’s story is not so well known.
From Thomasville, he was a 25-year-old soldier serving with the 101st Airborne’s 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment.
He was married and had two children and had been in the Army for two years.
His sister said he talked of becoming a physician’s assistant.
But instead, when Chihuahua’s unit was attacked on Nov. 12, 2012, by insurgents using rocket propelled grenades and small arms, he scrambled from soldier to soldier tending to wounded until he was killed, the Associated Press reported in its coverage of a Feb. 7 ceremony at Fort Campbell, Ky., in which the combat medic was awarded the Silver Star.
More than 100 soldiers attended, the AP reported. Frausto was there.
“To see all the soldiers who came and traveled long distances to be there for that honor, most of those men are alive because of my brother and his selfless act of service,” she said.
Frausto, who lives with her husband, Riley, and children in Richmond Hill, said knowing her brother’s heroism is remembered is special.
So are the Matthew Bears, she said.
“It’s amazing that Lisa and the United Methodist Church are doing this for us and for other families,” Frausto said. “Because the bears are made out of the uniforms my brother wore while he served, even the uniforms he had when he was in Afghanistan … as they get older, they will treasure them and realize the hero that their uncle is. It’ll be more than just a story, it’ll be more real life to them.”

Read more in the March 8 edition of the News.

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