Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 14, 2012

Mourners pay respects to Tech. Sgt. Schwartz

ACME — Flags lined Traverse City's streets as a grieving community said goodbye and thank you to one of their own.

U. S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Matthew S. Schwartz died Jan. 5 in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device, or IED, struck his vehicle. The blast also killed two other U.S. servicemen.

Schwartz, 34, graduated from Traverse City Central High School in 1996 and was killed during his sixth tour in a war zone. His wife Jennifer, also formerly of Traverse City, and daughters Aliza, Emily and Morgan survive.

Hundreds of his friends and family gathered at Christ the King Church in Acme today to pay respects. The turnout awed Schwartz's grandmother, Pat Bristol.

"It's just amazing how this town has responded," she said.

The Rev. Raymond C. Cotter officiated the traditional Catholic funeral service. He spoke of the importance of symbols like the U.S. flag and the cross, and what they say about Schwartz's commitment to his country, his family and his church. He called the death "such a significant loss to our nation."

"The substance of our lives is so different when you carry those symbols forward, when you allow them to push us to do something," Cotter said. "The flag means you serve something beyond yourself."

Flags waved along the streets near Christ the King, and people held signs that thanked Schwartz for his service.

"It's so nice to see those flags out there," said Dave Barth, a friend of Schwartz's family. "He was just an upstanding kid."

After the service, friends shared their memories of Schwartz.

"He was just a delightful, playful, precious being, regardless of life's circumstances," said Maeeda Kenaya, who knew him as a child. "He was a good person who had a lot to give."

Janet Reed didn't know Schwartz, but wanted to do something to thank him for his sacrifice. She stood along a cold, blustery Veterans Drive with two flags as the funeral procession made its way into Grand Traverse Memorial Gardens.

"I just wanted to pay my respects and be thankful for what he's done for us," she said. "It's quite a thing that these guys do."

Al Winowiecki stood quietly near the cemetery entrance. He knew Schwartz in the 1990s, when Schwartz was a young security guard at the Sara Lee plant in Traverse City. He remembered seeing Schwartz carry an Air Force bag, and he wasn't surprised to learn he signed up to serve his country.

"That's just the type of person I think he was," Winowiecki said. "He was a great guy."

Schwartz earned numerous military decorations for his war zone service, including three Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal.

Schwartz's family was presented with several flags at the graveside service, which included an Honor Guard and a 21-gun salute. A military plane also flew over the cemetery after a serviceman played "Taps."

"It was just beautiful," said Ken O'Brien, Schwartz's brother-in-law. "The military really does it right."

O'Brien said the community support meant a lot to the family.

"I kind of expected it, but didn't realize how much," O'Brien said. "It's stuff like that that makes you realize people really do think about this. Maybe we're not all wrapped up in our own little worlds."

At the church, dozens of pictures lined the entrance, images of Schwartz with his family through the years. Bristol pointed to several photos, and shared stories of graduations and visits to Santa Claus.

"There's just so many memories," she said. "It's the memories that I'll hold on to."

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