Hundreds Honor Sgt. Matthew Soper

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"Matthew ... he's almost like a son to me," said Sandy Cannons, Sgt. Matthew Soper's aunt, as hundreds filed through a downtown Jackson church to honor the 25-year-old Michigan National Guard soldier who lost his life during his second tour in Iraq.

For Cannons, Soper's death has been followed by weeks of remembrance and grief for a young man so important in her life.

In that time, friends and strangers have come to the family's aid with food and tissues -- the kind of things you need but probably aren't thinking about a time of such great loss. Many have come to the family home to pay respects.

"He just simply got out of his car and stood at attention and saluted and turned around and walked away," Cannons said, remembering a veteran's visit to the home. "That's one of the most touching things that I have experienced."

Now many more have come to say goodbye to a man who touched them with his life and his service.

"To honor the memory of one of our fallen heroes," Beth Murphy said.

Those gathered outside St. Mary Star of the Sea included friends and fellow soldiers, including the head of Michigan's National Guard.

"Each one of our soldiers is pretty special to each one of us," Maj. Gen. Tom Cutler said. "Part of the guard family. Each loss just breaks all of our hearts."

Just outside of the city in Summit Township, preparations were underway for Tuesday's 10 a.m. funeral at Lumen Christi High School.

"It's a matter of finding just the right words that will help the family move through this portion of the loss they've experienced," said the Rev. Bernard Reilly, pastor at St. Mary.

Dale Kinner, an army veteran and musician who performed as Soper was deployed, will return for his memorial.

"[He] was too young," Kinner said. "Way too young."

A young man, but a man his aunt says found something he loved doing and did it.

"He died with no regrets, Cannons said. "He was very very proud of what he did."

After the funeral mass, people are expected to line the roads for the nearly five mile procession from the high school to the cemetery.

It's one final show of support for Sgt. Matthew Soper.

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