The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 18, 2013

Fallen pilot gets somber escort

JOHNSTOWN — A somber procession of police cars and motorcycles escorted the hearse of a fallen soldier through a raised arch of fire truck aerial booms Thursday as Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Paul Ruffner began the final leg of his trip home from Afghanistan.

Ruffner was killed April 9 when his Apache helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan. Chief Warrant Officer Jarett Yoder, 26, of Mohnton, Berks County, also died in the crash.

On Thursday, the procession escorted Ruffner’s remains from the 1st Battalion, 104th Attack Reconnaissance Regiment hangars at John Murtha

Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.

The hearse was escorted by Richland Township and state police cruisers and about a dozen motorcycles and an equal number of other vehicles as the procession traveled out Airport Road to Route 219 and north the Ruffner family’s home area in Indiana County.

An arch of Richland Township Fire Department aerial booms, draped in a giant flag, greeted the fallen hero at the Solomon Run Road junction with Airport Road. A squad of Richland firefighters flanked the roadway, standing silently at attention.

Ruffner was born in Punxsutawney. He was the son of Charles and Diane Ruffner of Glen Campbell, Indiana County.

He graduated in 2003 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in criminology. Ruffner was living outside Harrisburg, where  he worked as a full-time Apache helicopter instructor pilot for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap.

Visitation is from 7-9 p.m. today at Rairigh Funeral Home in Hillsdale. The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at S.S. Cosmas and Damian Catholic Church in Punxsutawney. Ruff-ner will be buried with military honors at Burnside Cemetery in Burnside, Clearfield County.

Both soldiers were members of the 104th contingent based at Fort Indiantown Gap, but were working in Afghanistan with about 270 Guardsmen from the Johnstown unit.

About 1,500 Pennsylvania Guardsmen are deployed in Kuwait and about 500 in Afghanistan, mostly with various aviation units. Thirty-nine have died in action in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, but Yoder and Ruffner are the first pilots.

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