UPDATED: July 29 at 4:19 p.m.
More photos added to this story.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Jacksonville, Illinois this afternoon to honor a fallen hero. 29 year-old Staff Sergeant Matthew Weikert died in combat July 17, while serving a tour in Afghanistan. KHQA spent the day in Jacksonville as Matt's family laid him to rest.
"Matt's the first person I've known that's actually died in combat. So yeah, it hit me a bit harder," said John Stewart, one of Matt's close friends, who fought alongside him for four years in Afghanistan.
"It's sad that he gave his life at such a young age for all of us to have the freedoms that we have," said Scott Bridgewater, a resident of Chapin, Illinois who brought along his nephew Connor.
Thousands of people lined up along a seven-mile stretch of Morton and Liberty streets in Jacksonville. Ready to give a last farewell to Matt.
"I did not know him, but in my heart I know him,"said Bill Hartzfrom jacksonville. "It's touched the hearts of this town, and the state. Any fallen soldier...it hurts."
During his funeral procession that began just after noon Monday, members of the military and the public gave a salute and a wave as Matt's casket drove by.
"Hopefully, they'd do that with anyone else who dies in the service, so it's a good small community to be a part of with this. And I'm glad to see it this way," said Stewart.
When asked what memory he'll remember most, one thing came to mind.
"Matt had one of the best smiles. When he smiled, it was pretty awesome," said Stewart.
Stewart is getting ready to deploy overseas for his fourth tour in Afghanistan. Now, he has an even greater reminder of what he's fighting for.
"People still gotta do their jobs, so yeah, I still gotta do it," said Stewart.
It's a sacrifice he's willing to make. Monday, the thousands of poeple along the street made sure that our military men and women are respected for it.
"We just thought we'd come out and pay our respects for a man that gave his life for our country," said Bridgewater.
"It doesn't surprise me to see this many people standing out here," said Piiparinen. "It's a really good feeling."
"I really appreciate what this town is doing for this young man," said Hartz.
Around 1:00 p.m., four hundred friends and family gathered at Liberty Cemetary to lay Matt to rest. A 21 gun salute filled the air as military officials handed over two folded American flags to both Matt's mother and his son.
"We all miss him, and we'll see him again. I love you Matt," said Stewart. _______________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________