A Kearney native who served in the Navy's elite Seal Team 6 was among those killed in the crash of a U.S. military helicopter.
Matt Mason is one of four area fighters who died in the crash Friday. Mason was stationed in Virginia. He is survived by two children and his wife who is pregnant with their third child.
Also killed in the crash were Spencer Duncan, 21, of Olathe, Alexander Bennett, 23, of Overland Park and Bryan Nichols, 31, of Kansas City. Duncan was an Army Reserve specialist and door gunner while Bennett was an Army specialist and a flight mechanic. Nichols was a Chief Warrant Officer and a pilot.
Nichols survived a helicopter crash in June, KCTV5's Dana Wright reports.
John Ball coached Mason at Kearney High School in football. He said he first learned about Mason's death on Sunday and his reaction was stunned disbelief.
Mason graduated from Kearney High School in 1992.
"Matt would work so hard," Ball said. "You know you could count on Matt just pushing forward and doing the best that he could and never giving up."
Kirk Kuykendall, a sergeant first class, is home in Overland Park recuperating after his ankle was shattered in a helicopter crash in June. He said Bennett is like a son to him. They served together in Iraq in 2009.
"Alex loved to fly. You wouldn't find a better flight engineer or soldier," Kuykendall said."Wherever Alex goes, I will go so I can pay my final respects."
He also knew Duncan and Nichols. He praised both of their bravery and dedication. He is now helping comfort the three men's families.
Mikayla Dreyer, told the Kansas City Star, KCTV5's reporting partner, that she and other friends of Duncan's are so proud of him.
"When Spencer gets to heaven, he'll say: 'Let me in. I've been to hell already.'"
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder issued this statement mourning the fallen fighters:
"Our hearts are heavy," the Kansas Republican said. "In these moments, we are reminded of the unparalleled sacrifice of our nation's military. We owe our brave service men and women an immeasurable debt of gratitude for fighting for our freedom and safety. God bless these brave soldiers and their grieving families. May they be forever remembered as heroes and patriots."
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said his prayers are with the friends and family of the 38 killed, including 30 servicemen.
"These men bravely served our country and they gave their lives to protect our freedoms and their selfless sacrifice will never be forgotten," Blunt said.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas, hailed the bravery of the men.
"My heart goes out to all the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy," Moran said. "Our nation is forever indebted to these young men for their service and sacrifice. I ask all Kansans to join me in remembering the families and friends of the fallen in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback also noted that Private First Class Cody Glen Baker of Holton was killed last week in Afghanistan while on patrol. He said all the men have made sacrifices for their country that will never be forgotten.
"They are and will forever be our heroes," Brownback said.
To read more about Duncan, click here. To read more about other fallen fighters, click here. To read more about the crash, click here.
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