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Family gathers to welcome home fallen Lengby, Minn., soldier

BEMIDJI, Minn. - A small group of family members and sympathizers stood in silence as the flag-draped casket was lowered from the charter plane this morning at Bemidji Regional Airport.

Sgt. Matthew Harmon, 29, had come home to be buried in his hometown of Lengby. The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Fosston High School. Visitation will be held from noon-2 p.m. at the school.

Patriot Guard members held flags and saluted as Minnesota National Guard Honor Guardsmen carried the casket to the waiting hearse.

"It's our honor," said Sgt. Nate Anderson, one of the pallbearers.

"He was an expert diesel mechanic," said Matthew's great-uncle, Rodney Sletten. "You wouldn't have thought he'd be in the front lines. But it happens."

"He'd only been in Afghanistan for three weeks," said his great-aunt, Pearl Sletten.

Matthew died Aug. 14 of injuries he suffered from the detonation of an improvised explosive device that hit his vehicle while he was on active duty with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. His unit had been attempting to recover another bomb-damaged vehicle at the time. He had previously served two tours of duty in Iraq.

Led by Minnesota Highway Patrol squad cars, the Patriot Guard escorted the funeral procession from the airport along Moberg Drive, which was lined with people holding American flags to salute a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

As the procession passed through the towns on the way to Fosston, similar demonstrations honored the dead hero.

"It's sad, but it's a privilege and an honor for us to do this for the family," said John Reuter, captain of the Bemidji Patriot Guard and a Vietnam combat veteran.

Reuter said he has a son deployed with the Red Bulls in Iraq and another, a Marine, just back from his third tour in Afghanistan. He said if his family lost a soldier, they would want the community to offer the same demonstration of respect.

"I'm overwhelmed by the people who have come out to support the family," said Nicole Harmon, Matthew's wife and mother of their three children, Danika, 8, Vincent, 5, and Elsie, 3.

"In a small town especially, everybody knows everybody; a small town is like family," said Tim Carlin, funeral director with Carlin-Hoialmen Funeral Home, which is handling the arrangements.

Matthew's father, Tom Harmon, agreed. He said the family is hurting, but the loving support of friends and neighbors gives them strength.

Further support will be evident today as community members line U.S. Highway 2 from Fosston to Lengby, where Matthew will be buried. They will also stand in Matthew's honor along the road from the highway to Lengby and the sidewalks of the small town where he grew up.

In addition, Kurt "Philco" Philion of Mahnomen will run carrying a 3-by-5-foot flag from Fosston High School to the cemetery in Lengby.

A Matt Harmon Memorial Fund has been set up at First National Bank in Fosston, 124 W. First St., Fosston, MN 56542.