Walla Walla stands up for fallen soldier

First Lt. Mathew "Mat" Fazzari's body was returned home to Walla Walla in a public procession.

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WALLA WALLA -- Farewell Mat.

Those words were on the lips of thousands of people as they lined a flag-draped route from the Walla Walla Regional Airport and down Main Street to watch a hearse carry the remains of Army 1st Lt. Mathew "Mat" Fazzari to Herring Groseclose Funeral Home.

"I thought I'd pay my respects and show my support for a fallen soldier," said Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Newton, among the hundreds gathered along Main Street for the procession.

Fazzari, 25, is Walla Walla's first hometown military member to be killed in the more than 10-year-long war in Afghanistan.

He and Capt. Scott Pace, 33 of Brawley, Calif., died when the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopter they were flying went down during combat action June 6 with Taliban forces in Ghazni province.

"Whenever I see a vet, I think of that -- they're putting life on the line," said Chuck Hallstead, waiting for the procession to pass by. "We want the family to know we appreciate and respect their son's sacrifice."

Newton was impressed with the size of the community's turnout.

"It's overwhelming," said the soldier, who served in Iraq in 2008. "I honestly didn't expect this many people."

County workers and many businesses locked their doors so employees could watch Fazzari's procession. In a joint statement, county commissioners Perry Dozier and Jim Johnson -- Chairman Greg Tompkins was out of town -- called Fazzari's death a "terrible loss" to the "whole community."

Orletta Evoniuk, after the procession passed, said community's response to Fazzari's death was heartwarming.

"That's the privilege of living in a small town," she said. "You may not know that person, but they're still your own."

Fazzari, a 2005 DeSales Catholic High School and 2010 Gonzaga University graduate, was husband to Tovah (Kingman) Fazzari and father to their two young children. His parents are Greg and Susan Fazzari.

A Rosary for Fazzari will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at Assumption Catholic Church, 2098 E. Alder St.

The funeral will be 11 a.m. Friday at the church, with a graveside service at Mountain View Cemetery a reception at Assumption.

A community celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Cordiner Hall at Whitman College.

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