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UNION, Missouri – Late firefighter Matt Tobben was honored Tuesday during a memorial service that began in Columbia, passed through Warrenton and finally stopped in his hometown of Union.

“People want to pay tribute to a hero – and this was it,” said Boone County Asst. Chief Gale Blomenkamp. “He not only helped the people here in Union for 19 years, the people across the state of Missouri for 12 years, but the people across the country.”

Tobben lost his life during a water rescue in Columbia on Monday when he and three other passengers were thrown from the boat. He had joined the Boone County Fire Protection District just two months ago, where he trained in rescue boat operations. He was 42 years old.

“They do this for a reason; they do it to help their fellow man. That’s something we preach in the fire district,” Blomenkamp said. “If there was anyone we wanted to put on a boat yesterday morning to do this rescue, it was him… when I say the best of the best, he was one of them.”

Despite the rain on Tuesday, hundreds lined the streets with flags in their hands.

“It’s really sad to see how he gave his life to do what he thought was best – to try to make a difference,” said Nicholas Haberger, a participant in the procession. “It’s a small town. You basically know everyone; it’s sad to see that.”

Tobben leaves behind his wife and two young sons, Blomenkamp said.

“They will miss her more than anyone else. The recognition he is receiving is well deserved,” he said.