SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — “His last words to me were, ‘Mom, can you get pens and paper over here? They’d rather have that than food and water.’”
Two days after Captain Matthew Freeman said those words to his mother Lisa, he was killed in action in Afghanistan. Now, she describes why she began a foundation in her son’s name — the Matthew Freeman Project.
One of the project’s initiatives, Pens & Paper for Peace, collected 16,000 pounds of school supplies in the past five years that were given to soldiers and Marines who were able to give them directly to children in Afghanistan.
“Some of my favorite memories are actually seeing the pictures of the soldiers giving them to these children and the smiles on those faces,” Freeman said.
Her two daughters put their education on hold at the time of their brother’s death. Freeman calls siblings the forgotten mourners, which sparked the idea to create a scholarship fund for siblings of fallen soldiers. The project has provided nine scholarships so far.
“How many times my daughter’s told me that people came up and said, ‘How’s your mom,’ or ‘How’s your sister-in-law?’ and they didn’t ask about them,” Freeman said. “Yet they are the ones who I think when I look around probably suffer the most. They miss that older brother terribly.”
Another one of the project’s initiatives called Matthew Bears creates bears for families out of fallen soldier’s uniforms.
At one point, Lisa received over 1,000 emails asking about Matthew Bears. Half of the emails were from seamstresses all over the world asking if they could help sew.
The Matthew Freeman Project has made over 700 bears for families who lost loved ones, including combat-related suicides.
“I was so afraid of losing that connection that Matt still could make with so many people and what God has shown me is that, in fact, it touched probably many more than he ever would have if he had maybe still been able to still be with us,” Freeman said.
In 2009, Captain Freeman married his highschool sweetheart, Theresa Hess. Three weeks later, he volunteered for ground action when he heard the Marines needed more forces.
September marks the 10 year anniversary of Matthew’s death when he was just 29-years-old.
“He was just a fun kid to raise because there was never a dull moment. He was always involved in something. He was president of the school and his wife was the vice president of the school, they were good friends,” Freeman said. “Sadly, they had only been married a month when he was killed.”
At the end of Captain Matthew Freeman Drive sits a memorial dedicated to Matthew in the Bryan County building so his legacy can live on.
“I love it because there’s a podium in there with a little book that people can write in and when I go in there to pay my taxes or get license plates or whatever I stop and read the comments,” Freeman said. “I love hearing from past soldiers or Marines or just people that knew him growing up saying, ‘We miss you Matthew’ or whatever it is — the comments are very uplifting.”
Matthew’s last journal entry is under glass in the memorial, a special, yet heartbreaking discovery for his mother.
“I didn’t let myself read it for about two or three years. His wife sent it to us but I couldn’t bear the thought of it because it started out:
‘Mom, Dad, you made me the man I am today. Tell the girls I love them and I couldn’t be a prouder older brother.’ But he goes onto say, ‘I do this for my family so they need not fear, I do this for my country so it can be a beacon of light for the entire world and for myself so I might know the measure of myself and not be found wanting.’
It was like a gift to let me know that he was stable and sure of who he was.”
It’s not hard to tell from hundreds of loving comments in the memorial book how special of a person Matthew was.
“Even when you talked to the men who were with him on the ground just loved him because he put them first, made them feel important and that’s just kind of the way he was,” Freeman said. “I think one of my favorite things about him was his laughter. He had the best chuckle of anybody I knew.”
Freeman says she’s thankful she created the Matthew Freeman Project because it got her through the hard times knowing the scope of families going through a similar tragedy she was able to help.
“It has probably been one of the most meaningful things that I’ve been able to do in my lifetime,” she said, adding, “I can see my son smiling down and being very proud.”