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Life of soldier killed in Germany crash celebrated by many, despite missed timing of procession

Georgia coast residents who missed the opportunity to show their gratitude as U.S. Army Capt. Mathew R. Benasuly's funeral procession passed through on Tuesday, will have another opportunity to do so.

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By LARRY HOBBS | The Brunswick News, Ga. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 6, 2018

If it really is the thought that counts, then the late U.S. Army Capt. Mathew R. Benasuly's long legacy of service to the country was greatly appreciated by many in Georgia.

Residents waving American flags gathered Tuesday morning in scattered groups up and down U.S. Highway 17, eager to show their gratitude as the hearse and family limousine that was returning his body passed through Brunswick to Edo Miller Funeral Home. Unfortunately, many who showed up at the appointed 10:45 a.m. time missed the procession's passing, which included an escort of local law enforcement on the road and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter overhead.

By the time many had settled in along the escort route ahead of the estimated 10:45 a.m. arrival, the procession had already arrived at the funeral home. The family had received his body that morning, which was returned home through Jacksonville International Airport. Banasuly was an Army National Guardsman, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He died Jan. 25 during an on-duty vehicle crash at the military base where he was serving in Germany.

Banasuly was deployed to Wiesbaden, Germany, in 2017. He leaves behind a wife and three children, as well as several family members still living in Georgia.

"It's sad that we didn't get to show his family how much care and respect we had for Mat," said Terry Cramer, a long time friend of the family who stood along U.S. 17 awaiting the procession.

Growing up, Benasuly and his family attended the church where Cramer's father served as pastor, Terry Cramer said. She has remained in touch with the family and followed Benasuly's military career.

"Mat touched lives all over the world," Cramer said. "He was an amazing guy, a paratrooper, a warrior, an adventurer, a patriot."

Constance Brown did not know Benasuly, but she came out to salute his service along with daughter Jelisa Brown and grandson Jacari Brown, 18. They were sitting in the open back of an SUV outside the funeral home when they learned the procession had already arrived.

"He gave an oath to protect us and that is very special," said Constance Brown. "I'm getting teary eyed talking about it. We wanted to show the family that we appreciate everything he did."

Pamela Horne and daughters Morgan, 18, and Cassidy, 14, joined David and Terri Knowles, driving over from as far away as the Brantley County line and Waverly in Camden County to show their respects.

"He needed to be saluted," Pamela Horne said. "His family needs to know he is appreciated for his service."

Added David Knowles: "I regret that we missed it. But if I had any idea it was going to be earlier, I would have been here at 7 a.m. this morning. It's that important to me."

People will have an opportunity to show their respects again on Saturday, said Joni Bennett, who organized Tuesday's event. She apologized for the escort's early arrival Tuesday, but said the family was deeply appreciative of the gesture of support expressed by the many who turned out.

"We were heartsick this came through so early," Bennett said. "But we are so deeply grateful for everyone who came out and we're so proud of our community. The family was overwhelmed and very appreciative."

Benasuly's service will be held at 10 a.m. at Edo Miller Funeral Home in Brunswick, Georgia, after which there will be a procession from Fourth Street to Palmetto Cemetery. There Benasuly will be buried with full military honors. Those wishing to show support are asked to set up along Fourth Street by 10 a.m., Bennett said.

After the burial, a celebration of life will take place at Camp Tolochee, Bennett said. A GoFundMe is being organized by Benasuly's fellow soldiers.

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©2018 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)
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