Sunday, the Tribune began a four part series about the military service of brothers Jack and Donald Matthews, two Great Bend veterans who served their country during World War II and the Cold War during the Korean Conflict. Both will be memorialized at the Golden Belt Veterans Memorial at the Golden Belt Memorial Park. Don Matthews shared his brother’s memoirs with readers, which covered the period between D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge during 1944. Today, some history about Donald’s service as the Cold War began.
Jack Mathews’ memoirs include stories about duck hunting at Cheyenne Bottoms when he was in high school, swimming at the sand pit and working as the water boy for his father’s construction company as a boy. One of six brothers, he never had a room of his own growing up, but he had lifelong friends in his brothers Walter and Claude. In 1944, right after graduation, Jack joined the Army and was assigned to the 101st Airborne, “Screaming Eagles.” He was in Europe until the end of World War II, and when he returned home, he joined Claude working for his father once again. His father urged the two to return to college, which they did in 1947. Jack studied public law at Kansas State University under the G.I. bill. Claude went for his master’s degree, and by 1949, he was working for the University of Alaska in Anchorage.
That’s also when their younger brother, Donald, graduated from Hoisington High School and immediately went into the Army. It was the beginning of the Cold War, and tensions between Russia and the United States were heating up. The U.S. built an extensive aircraft control and warning system along Alaska’s coast and interior.
Don Matthews served with 96th anti-aircraft, stationed in the Alaskan Territory, just 73 miles from the Russian border. While his battalion never took part in the Korean Conflict, while on duty, they could see Russian aircraft being deployed, headed to North Korea. They could take binoculars to the top of a hill and see Russian tanks and artillery on the other.
The 96th AAA was a newly formed unit in the summer of 1949. They trained in Texas, and after leaves were completed, they moved by train and by ship and by train again to Anchorage and onto northern Alaska where they camped and built their base from the ground up. They built field kitchens, pit latrines, mess tents and gun positions throughout most of the day, and slept in tents until quonsets could be set up months later. Four batteries, A,B,C,and D were formed, with most situated in and around swamps, according to military historians. In 1957, the 96th was replaced by the 4th Missile Battalion.
“The mission of the 96th AAA was to provide AAA fire against medium and high flying hostile aircraft in direct support of the 10th Air Division for the air defense of the Elmendorf Air Force Base, Fort Richardson Complex. A minimum of two guns per battery was kept on a 20 minute alert status.”
Matthews remember one night early on, the Russians sent about a dozen planes over the international waters, so he and others in his battery slept on the guns all night in -30 to -40 degree temperatures.
It wasn’t uncommon for Matthews to have run-ins with wildlife. At least twice, he was run up poles or trees by wandering moose. And when that happened, soldiers feasted on moose for days, he recalls.
During one of his 10-day furloughs, he joined brothers Claude and Jack for a caribou hunt near Fairbanks, Alaska. It is one of his cherished memories of time with his brothers. All were interested in hunting, and this was a hunting trip of a life-time.
When he was discharged, Matthews returned to Barton County, and found work with the oil industry, and later with local co-ops. In 1957, he married Mary Louise Pyle of Satopa, Kan., and they had four daughters in quick succession.
Mary, passed away a few years ago. Through her, he became an avid talking book fan. Mary was blind, and listening to the books opened up the world for her. Earlier this year the Great Bend Public Library displayed one of his paintings as part of the traveling exhibit, “Through Different Eyes,” which was reported on in the Tribune in April.
This brought him to the attention of a group of American Legion members who invited him to attend the May Honor Flight. Through them, he has received a wheelchair so he can get to coffee at the American Legion. But best of all, he’s found the friendship and camaraderie that veterans need, no matter what war they took part in.
Through this association, both Matthews brothers have been selected as the first two recipients of a $1,000 donation provided by the Great Bend Tribune to assist in paying for engravings for those veterans who do not have the financial resources, family in the area or who served long ago and are deserving of recognition.
Since the part one of the series ran in Sunday, the Tribune has heard from both Marcella (Matthews) White, oldest daughter of Donald Matthews, and Vicki Bear, daughter of Jack Matthews.
Vicki reports Jack was actually in Co. “E” 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Indian Head Division, serving in France, Belgium and Germany.
“He was in the Battle fo the Bulge,” she wrote. “He enlisted on Oct. 23, 1943 and was injured twice, receiving Purple Hearts both times.” He was also awarded several other medals, she wrote, and was honorably discharged March 28, 1946.
Marcella described Don as a very unselfish man.
“All of my uncles were like that but my Daddy and uncle Jack were two peas in a pod!!”
The family adds that all veterans, young and old, deserve and respect recognition.
In order to be eligible for an engraving at the Golden Belt Veterans Memorial, the veteran must have lived in Barton County at some point and be honorably discharged from the military. Those currently serving are also eligible.
The project is not limited to one conflict nor to any one branch of the service. All Barton County veterans are welcome to apply for an engraving.
There is a $45 line charge (21 character spaces), two line maximum. With 1,040 lines available, it is anticipated that 500 to 700 more applications will be accepted. Work will start when all lines have been spoken for. For information on how you can honor a veteran or veterans, contact the Barton County Administrator’s Office at 620-793-1800.