Fallen Marine Captain Matthew Freeman, 29, of Richmond Hill, is being remembered as a good man, a devoted family man and a true patriot.
He was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 36 in Okinawa, Japan, but volunteered for a special liason assignment. Freeman was helping to train the Afghan military on the ground while supporting combat operations in the Kapisa Province. On Aug. 7, Freeman was on top of a roof directing close air support when he was hit by machine gun fire and killed. There were no other reported fatalities in the area at that time.
"We’re all very proud of him," said Gary Freeman, Matthew Freeman’s father. "He was a good man. He loved his country, he loved the Marine Corps, and he loved his wife and family."
Freeman’s casket is slated to arrive at the Savannah Airport today at 3 p.m. and a police escort will lead the casket from the airport along Hwy. 17 to the Richmond Hill Funeral Home.
Richmond Hill City Manager Mike Melton said much of Hwy. 17 will be lined with flags and encourages residents to line up along the highway as Capt. Freeman passes between 3:30-4 p.m.
Mill Run Road, the Strathy Hall street the Freemans live on, has been decorated by neighbors with more than a hundred flags and a large sign at the entrance to the street that is decorated with his picture and reads, "Capt. Matt Freeman USMC was raised on this island. Last week he gave his life in Aghanistan protecting our freedom. Freedom is not free. Matt is our hero."
"Everyone liked Matt," said Richmond Hill High School Principal Charles Spann.
Freeman graduated from Richmond Hill High School in 1998. He was chosen as the Richmond Hill Exchange Club Student of the Year that same year.
Spann said Freeman was an outgoing student and that he excelled academically and was an outstanding tennis player.
"He was a young man who was committed to what he wanted to do," Spann said. "He always knew what he wanted. He wanted to be a pilot."
Spann said Freeman wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Gary Freeman is a senior test pilot at Gulfstream and also a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.
"Matt graduated with honors and got his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy," Spann said.
Freeman graduated from the Naval Academy in 2002. His sister Ginny Freeman is currently attending the academy.
Spann said he and the teachers who knew Freeman were shocked and saddened by the news of his death.
"We all remember Matt with a great deal of fondness," he said. "I’ve known his mother for 12-14 years. She (Lisa Freeman) teaches at the (Richmond Hill) middle school. Many of our students know Matt’s two younger sisters. Our heart goes out to the family."
Some will remember Freeman for his achievements in high school tennis. He played on two final four tennis teams and played varsity tennis for four years.
"He was an A student with interests varying from scouts to church," said Pat Paruso, his RHHS tennis coach. "Always a leader and always good-natured, the kid was admired by both teachers and peers. He wasn’t a goody-goody. He could be rowdy and tough. My kind of kid. He challenged authority but tempered it with understanding. I won’t ever forget him."
"The Freemans have been neighbors of my family for over 17 years, and I will always remember Matt as an outstanding young man who loved his family and country," said Lynn Bennett, who lives on Mill Run Road. "Please remember him and his family in your prayers."
The City of Richmond Hill plans to honor Freeman by presenting the family with a certificate as part of a program entitled The Last Roll Call, which Mayor Richard Davis started up in 2005. Freeman will be the third recipient in the program which honors Richmond Hill men who have been killed in the line of duty. Prior recipients were Alan Gifford and Sid Brookshire.
"Of course, this is a huge loss to the family, but it is also a huge loss to this community," Davis said. "Matt grew up here and I knew him to be a very able and smart young man. This city will always remember the honor and the courage of Captain Matthew Freeman."
Freeman leaves behind his wife Theresa. The two wed just three weeks ago. Both graduated from RHHS in 1998. Theresa Freeman, formerly Hess, is an Air Force flight surgeon.
He also leaves behind two siblings – Ginny Freeman and Mary Beth Macias. Mary Beth is married to Air Force Special Ops pilot Mike Macias, who is flying in from Dover, Maryland to help lead today’s precession.
Visitation is scheduled for Friday at the Richmond Hill United Methodist Church from 5-8 p.m., and the service will take place at the church Saturday at 11 a.m.