Sgt. Matthew Harmon: Hundreds pay tribute to fallen soldier in funeral in Fosston
FOSSTON, Minn. -- Holding American flags and wiping away tears, hundreds of people from across the Upper Midwest paid their final tribute Saturday to Sgt. Matthew Harmon, a U.S. Army diesel mechanic who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Harmon, 29, died Aug. 14 in Afghanistan from injuries he sustained while on active duty in the U.S. Army.
Harmon was killed when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle while his unit was attempting to recover a bomb-damaged vehicle. He had previously served two tours of duty in Iraq and had just begun the one-year tour in Afghanistan.
Services for Harmon were held Saturday afternoon at the Fosston High School where about 125 members of the Patriot Guard Riders stood outside holding flags.
Patriot Guard Riders members came from across Minnesota to honor Harmon, said Karla Richardson, a Patriot Guard Riders member from Verndale, Minn.
"Our motto is 'honesty, dignity and respect,'" she said. "Every single member is here for the thankfulness in their heart for those who served."
Inside the school, yearbooks with pictures of Harmon lay open on a table in the hallway so people could sign them. Harmon was a member of the wrestling, football and cross country teams and was active in theater. He committed to the Army National Guard in 1999 when he was a senior, and five years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army full time.
Floral bouquets, Harmon's flag-covered casket and a photograph of him in military dress were set up in the gymnasium where the service was held. Before the service, two Minnesota Honor Guard members stood at attention by the casket, changing guard every 20 minutes.
About 400 family members, friends, members of veterans groups and political leaders, including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, gathered for the service.
"On Aug. 14, Matthew gave the ultimate sacrifice," said the Rev. Mark Faugstad, the pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Lengby, Minn., who officiated at the service. As a boy, Harmon was baptized, and later, confirmed at the church, Faugstad said.
Harmon not only was a husband, father, soldier, son, grandson, nephew and cousin, but also a man of strong Christian faith who had taught Sunday school and shared his knowledge and love of Jesus Christ with children, Faugstad said.
Harmon's love of country, family and friends was an example of U.S. Army values, said Brig. Gen. Michael Lally, who also spoke at the service. Harmon was well-liked by everyone in his unit and treated everyone whom he met with respect, Lally said.
Harmon was a hero who put his country before himself, he said.
"The unsung heroes of our military, especially in combat, are our maintenance," Lally said.
Harmon's widow, Nicole, was presented with a Bronze Star medal and a Purple Heart from the U.S. Army during the funeral service.
After the service, hundreds of people holding flags lined U.S. Highway 2 between Fosston and Lengby to pay tribute to Harmon. Dozens more lined the streets of Lengby, where Harmon grew up.
The news of Harmon's death hit the small community hard, said Glen Anderson, owner of Lengby Oil Co.
"He was well-liked," he said
"Matt was a good kid," said Harmon's father, Tom Harmon. His son was a product of small-town America where, if someone has a job to do, they get it done.
"I'm sure he and that other young man knew of the danger, but they went in willingly," Tom Harmon said. "We're very proud of him."
Bailey is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. The Herald and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.