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DUTY IS STRESSED AT SOLDIER'S FUNERAL

J.C. Matteson would have appreciated this kind of farewell.

Matteson, after all, was a soldier descended from soldiers -- and this was a soldier's goodbye.

Under gray and drizzling skies at midday Saturday, Army Sgt. James Charles Matteson -- a 23-year-old son of the Southern Tier -- was laid to rest in Lakeview Cemetery in Jamestown, to the mournful wail of bagpipes and the crystalline notes of taps played by two trumpeters.

He would have turned 24 Monday.

At the graveside, his family wept, but they were proud of him. Matteson, a Celoron native and star high school football player, died Nov. 12 in the battle to take the city of Fallujah in Iraq, when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

"He died a hero, dying for all Americans and for his country," said his mother, Joyce Reynolds of Jamestown.

"J.C. believed in what he and his troops were doing for our country and the world -- freedom for all people. The American people have a choice when it comes to terrorism: run away or stand and fight. There is no in between. We have made our choice to stand our ground."

As a crowd of some 300 friends and relatives huddled in raincoats and under umbrellas, in the steady drizzle, Matteson was saluted by a rifle honor guard.

Later, an Army honor guard carefully lifted two large American flags, the drapery of his coffin, folding them slowly before presenting them to his family.

Matteson, who joined the Army at 17, was descended from a long line of soldiers, reaching all the way back to the Revolutionary War. His father, James L. Matteson, served in the Army, as does his sister, Army Spc. Hope Freedom Matteson -- who walked behind her brother's casket Saturday in uniform.

"The family really has this tradition that we should all be very proud of," said Catharine M. Young, an assemblywoman and a Matteson family friend. "They've stood up for freedom over and over and over again. It's what really makes our community great -- it's the legacy that has been left behind. And that legacy is freedom."

Matteson's life was celebrated in a 1 1/2 -hour service in Christ First United Methodist Church in Jamestown.

During the service, Pastor Daniel Gibbons of New Life Christian Center in Jamestown, the church where Matteson worshipped, described a day in 1997 when he and Matteson, along with Hope Matteson, had a long talk about military service. Gibbons had been a military police officer earlier in his life.

That day, Matteson had a million questions about what the military was like, Gibbons recalled.

Looking back, Gibbons said he knows that Matteson at that time was facing a difficult decision -- whether to choose college, and possibly a football scholarship, or the Army. Matteson chose to honor his family's tradition by choosing to enlist, his pastor said.

Shortly after graduating from Southwestern High School in 1998, Matteson entered the Army.

"If J.C. had chosen college, we probably wouldn't be here right now," said Gibbons. "But he sacrificed so that others could have life and live on."

"This is a graduation for J.C.," the pastor continued. "I can just see him right now, in heaven, asking thousands of questions. He's ready for the next mission, ready to take on the next assignment. This may seem like a defeat to some," he said, "but I assure you -- it's no defeat, it's a victory."

"Believe in the mission he was on, as he believed in it," urged Rick Slagle, mayor of Celoron. "Whether you agree with it or not, the best way we can honor J.C. is to honor the mission he was on, as he did."

Matteson's grave is located in the Soldier's Circle area of Lakeview. His final resting place, like his life's work, is among soldiers.

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

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