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Thousands line streets to honor fallen Marine officer

Thousands of people lined the streets of Hwy. 17 and Hwy. 144 as a procession carrying fallen Marine Capt. Matthew Freeman drove from the National Guard airport in Savannah to the Richmond Hill Funeral Home.

Earlier that day, Richmond Hill city workers lined the city streets with American flags. Dozens of marquees from businesses throughout the city, which usually advertise products and services, were instead lettered with messages of gratitude to Capt. Freeman for his service to his country. Every flag in the city was at half mast.

A police escort and motorcade led the hearse carrying Freeman’s casket, followed by the family in a limousine. The crowd waved flags, saluted and held signs in support of Capt. Freeman and his family as they passed.

"It was an amazing outpouring of support," said Gary Freeman, Capt. Freeman’s father. "Matt would have been very impressed, and I’m very thankful that the community came out and showed their support."

"I was very proud of Richmond Hill today," Mayor Richard Davis said. "I saw people lining the streets today that I haven’t seen in a long time. It was a hot day, but that didn’t seem to faze anyone. This was a day to show our respect for Matt and it showed how revered he is in this town."

The volume of people that lined the streets is even more impressive when you consider the fact that news of the procession was released just the day before.

"When we found out about it, I started emailing everyone I had an email address for to come out," said Richmond Hill resident Terri Jarrell. "The Freemans have gone to our church (Richmond Hill United Methodist) as long as I can remember. Lisa (Freeman, mother) and I were even in the choir together. I know how much Gary (Freeman, father) and her love their kids, and this broke my heart. I felt compelled to get involved in some way, and was so blown away at how many of my Richmond Hill neighbors felt the same way. It brought me to tears and gave me a sense of pride for choosing to live in Richmond Hill."

Richmond Hill resident Sharon Cooper said the attendance not only shows support for the Freeman family, but shows that this community supports the military.

"It was very important to me to show my support for the Freeman family," Cooper said. "For so many people to come out who didn’t even know him was inspiring. Hopefully it shows that we do support the military and believe in what they’re doing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that don’t understand what’s going on over there."

The Richmond Hill High School football team halted practice to come out and show their support. Head coach Brian Brocato said the team will be wearing American flags on their helmets this season in honor of Freeman.

"We as the Richmond Hill football team wanted the Freemans to understand just how much we supported Matt in what he did and how much we care about the family in their time of need," Brocato said. "We have many military families represented on this team and many of their parents are deployed right now. I myself am a Marine and a Desert Storm vet. Coach Rick Bond is former military and Coach Flanders’ father is a military vet. To Matt I say Semper Fi your mission is complete; you can stand down and go home to see our Lord and Savior. You were faithful, did your duty and now you can rest. We are proud of you. ‘Oorah’ from the Wildcats."

Capt. Freeman was killed in action on Aug. 7. He was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 36 in Okinawa, Japan, but volunteered for a special liaison assignment. He was helping to train the Afghan military on the ground while supporting combat operations in the Kapisa Province. 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 fatalities in the incident, but Specialist Christopher Lowe, a member of the Georgia Army National Guard and a Savannah resident, was reportedly also shot.

Lowe is currently recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Freeman grew up in Richmond Hill, where he was a star on the tennis team. He was a third generation military officer. Among his other accomplishments were Eagle Scout, RHHS Student Council president and 1998 Richmond Hill Exchange Club Student of the Year.

In addition to his parents and siblings, Capt. Freeman leaves behind wife Theresa, whom he wed just three weeks ago.

Visitation is Friday at the Richmond Hill United Methodist Church, and the service will take place at the church Saturday at 11 a.m. He will be laid to rest Aug. 26 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are encouraged to be made to the Capt. Matthew Freeman Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Bryan Bank and Trust, P. O. Box 1299, Richmond Hill, GA 31324.

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