Family, friends and soldiers convened Friday on two continents to honor 1st Lt. Mathew Fazzari.
At the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, wife Tovah, parents Greg and Susan, and brother Luke Fazzari witnessed the "Dignified Transfer" process as his remains were ceremoniously moved from an incoming aircraft to a waiting vehicle that was driven to the Port Mortuary.
On the other side of the world Friday, 200 soldiers in Task Force Pegasus assembled in an open-air hangar at Bagram Air Field to celebrate the lives of Fazzari and Capt. Scott Pace, Fazzari's commander and co-pilot. The two soldiers were killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash after their OH-58 Kiowa Warrior was struck by enemy fire in the Ghazni province, Afghanistan.
Fazzari, 25, is the first Walla Walla soldier to be killed in action since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, according to casualty databases. Pace, 33, was a resident of Brawley, Calif.
Fazzari's family was set to return to Walla Walla on Saturday night, his mother said via text message from the East Coast earlier in the day. They were to be accompanied by military escort Capt. Brenden Kint. Susan Fazzari said her son's remains will return to Walla Walla in seven to 10 days. More specifics on arrangements will be known in a few days, she said.
The care from the U.S. military for their son has been a source of comfort, Greg Fazzari indicated in a letter circulated throughout the DeSales Catholic High School, where he teaches and where Mat was a 2005 graduate.
"The extraordinary dignity with which the U.S. Army is handling this is very uplifting," he wrote. "It makes us very thankful for this great country that Mathew was so proud to serve. We are convinced that every person wearing a uniform is a true hero. Some of these heros make it home safely, and some pay the ultimate price. To know that Mathew died trying to do good … gives much consolation."
At Bagram Air Field, Fazzari's framed photo was displayed with Pace's, along with two pairs of boots, and two service rifles, each topped with a cavalry hat and holding dog tags for the fallen soldiers.
According to a post on the Facebook page for the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, the service was attended by Maj. Gen. James Huggins, 82nd Airborne division commander; Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Bryant Lambert, the 82nd Airborne Division command sergeant major; Maj. Gen William Mayville, the Combined Joint Task Force-1 commander; and Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Charles Sasser Jr.
"This is a tragic loss for our entire brigade, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to their families and all those who knew or worked with these outstanding pilots," Col. T.J. Jamison wrote in a note from Pegasus 6. "It is right and proper we take time to grieve and reflect on our fallen brothers and pray for their families in this tremendously difficult period of their lives.
"No words, no letter, and no ceremony can ever bring back our fallen heroes. No honor can ever do their absence justice. But during this trying time, I ask that we come together to let our soldiers' families and loved ones know they are not alone."
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.