Loved ones and fellow warriors say goodbye to Cpl. Matt Hanes
Army Cpl. Matthew Hanes was escorted from this world in much the same way he was welcomed back to York County as a wounded warrior more than two years ago — surrounded by family, friends and the roar of scores of motorcycles.
Following a celebration of his life Friday at York Expo Center's Memorial Hall West, more than a hundred motorcycles joined Hanes' funeral procession to Mount Rose Cemetery. Riders included members of the Warrior Brotherhood Veterans Motorcycle Club, the Patriot Guard Riders and the American Legion Riders.
During the service, Hanes' Army brothers from the 82nd Airborne stood single file in front of his casket, straight-backed and silent.
Moments earlier, as the viewing was wrapping up, an elderly man wearing a Veterans of Foreign War cap approached the casket in his motorized wheelchair. It took some effort, but the man stood and saluted the fallen soldier.
Hanes, 24, of East Manchester Township, died Aug. 7 of a blood clot that stopped his heart, a complication of his war wound.
He was on patrol in Afghanistan in June 2012 when he was shot. The bullet shattered part of his spine, paralyzing him from the chest down.
"From the moment he hit that wheelchair, his desire was to walk again," certified life celebrant Betty Frey told mourners. "Matt is walking today."
More than a chair: Hanes' brother-in-law, Geoffrey "Alex" Harpster, also addressed the large crowd of mourners. At one point he gestured toward Hanes' wheelchair, which was near his casket.
"That chair you see over there? That's not Matt," he said. "It never was."
Harpster read aloud one of Hanes' recent Facebook posts about his struggles:
"Unless you've been a quadriplegic, I couldn't make any of you know how much it sucks. But regardless of how many years I'm stuck like this, one day I'll be back to the man I was," Hanes wrote. "And I'll be a much stronger man than I was."
In that posting, the young man offered some hard-earned advice:
"The key to a happy life and success is going at it with others by your side, pushing you to keep going," he wrote. "Life is easy once you realize that."
Staff Sgt. Daniel Williams, who served in the 82nd Airborne with Hanes, told mourners that Hanes swept the ground for mines ahead of his fellow soldiers.
"He was so damned good that snipers asked to take him out with them," he said.
'He lived life': No matter how bad things got in Afghanistan, Hanes always had a smile on his face, according to the sergeant.
"He lived life," Williams said. "Just remember him when you think things are getting tough."
Williams said Hanes is the first sibling he's had to bury.
"This is my family, without questions," the sergeant said as he looked first at Hanes' flag-draped casket, then at his band of grieving brothers.
"A fallen hero has been called home way too soon," Frey told mourners, adding that Hanes' parents previously told her about his courage, strength and endurance.
"They were so proud of him," she said.
Youngest child: The son of Christine Hanes and the late Lee Hanes, he was the baby of the family. As a child, he played with Matchbox cars and tolerated — for a time — his two older sisters painting his fingernails, according to Frey.
Eventually he told them, "Let's do the toes — you don't see them as much."
Frey said Hanes' close friend and caregiver, Jennifer Munck, believes it was those sibling interactions that gave Hanes a solid understanding of how to treat women.
She described Hanes as laid back but determined and said he never gave up.
'Daring adventure': He didn't just live his philosophies, he wore some of them on his skin.
Frey said his tattoos included "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" and "I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."
At his home — where he was helped by his loyal service dog Jackson, a German shepherd — Hanes had a framed saying on a wall: "Do or do not. There is no trying."
Hanes, a 2010 graduate of Northeastern High School, was buried with full military honors by the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program and Vet 21 Salute Honor Guard.
As his funeral procession left the York Fairgrounds and headed east on Market Street, West York police officers stood at attention and saluted until the entire procession has passed.
After being shot, Hanes spent nearly a year at military hospitals before returning home to East Manchester Township, where he received a hero's welcome.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.