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Eulogizing Bruce

I leave for Hawaii Wednesday. On Sunday I will have the opportunity to eulogize one of my two Marines by his grave in Hawaii. The honor becomes clearer as I get closer to this date. 
You may remember from an earlier post that Bruce is one of only six Pennsylvania veterans of the Korean War buried in Hawaii's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Six seems like an awfully small number for a conflict that claimed a total of 2,401 lives from my state. (You can see a listing of all casualties, by state, at this Archives website.) To understand why this is so, I draw on what I learned from Lauren's research and the Normandy Institute. 
In World Wars I and II the next of kin for deceased American soldiers were offered a choice for their loved one's remains: interment overseas in a U.S. cemetery or repatriation to the U.S. If brought back to the U.S., that serviceman may be buried by the family or a U.S. cemetery here. This policy was the result of a compromise, struck in W…
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Drawing from a few Marines' Expertise

One of the thrills from historical research comes from running down the answer to an unanswered question. I am wrestling with one such question regarding Bruce's service, and hunting down answers to it gave me a chance to better understand the nature of the beginning of the Korean War.

Bruce served a long Marine career. In fact, his career spanned four enlistments: 1936, 1942, 1946, and 1950. Here's a photo from his final enlistment document.

As one can see, the letterhead from this document indicates he was with the 2nd Marines. However, all documents related to his death indicates that he was with the 1st Marines as part of the 1st Marine Division.

This is a detail I might have not really comprehended when first scanning the large OMPF for Bruce. But after scanning it I talked a bit with my brother, Matt, who served with the Marines earlier this century. Matt has been very helpful for clarifying fussy but important details. For instance, in Lauren's project last year he…

The Navy Cross

Staff Sergeant Bruce Mathewson, Jr., distinguished himself on his last day with actions and leadership that earned him the Navy Cross. It was awarded to him posthumously: the medal itself was given to his son, Earle, who had just turned two before his father died. Accounts of Bruce's final day constitute the most fascinating components of his personnel file and other documents I've received from the National Archives.

The citation for Bruce's Navy Cross doesn't come up until page 330 of his 530-page OMPF, and I first came across the faded type-written document back in May when I was furiously skimming his files. A few pages later, there is a "Combat Award Recommendation Card" that offers a few more details of the event. It mentions that Bruce died of three gunshot wounds to his left side, that he was operating in a place with "Little concealment" and acting as a light machine gun section leader. It indicates that he employed an M1 Carbine and a Smi…

Hometown Heroes

My home of Lansdale is one of many communities participating in a Hometown Heroes recognition whereby veterans' pictures are displayed along the main streets of the borough. I enjoy seeing these photos of young men and women who served. We have at least one banner in Lansdale of a Revolutionary War veteran. Most, though, honor those who served in World War II and the Cold War.

I'm now wondering if I have an additional hero to put on one of those banners: Staff Sergeant Bruce Mathewson, Jr.

One of the critical moments in my research is the receipt of a serviceman's Official Military Personnel File, or OMPF, from the National Archives. Every member of the Armed Forces has one, but not all of these files survive (there was a major fire at the Archives branch where these are kept in the 1970s). Fortunately, Bruce's survived.

And it was thicker than a ream of paper. The PDF file for his OMPF is 530 pages. Yikes! Whenever I open it off of my Google Drive, I get a warning th…

My Two Marines

I'd like to tell you a little about the two Marines I'm researching.

Staff Sergeant Bruce Mathewson, Jr. was a native of southeastern Pennsylvania. I was tasked with identifying a serviceman who died in Korea, was from Pennsylvania, and buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, otherwise known as the Punchbowl. Only six men fit those criteria, so I went with the one who identified a home, New Britain, closest to where I live and work.

Mathewson enlisted in the Marines in 1936 and re-upped three more times before his death in 1950. In addition to Korea he saw action in China before Pearl Harbor and in Guam and Iwo Jima during World War II. He earned a Navy Cross posthumously for the actions that resulted in his death in November 1950. Mathewson was killed in action in the battle for the Chosin Reservoir.

He was a married father of three, and two of the children are still living, though my attempts to reach out to the one who lives in the area have been unsuccessf…

My Second Trip

It's my privilege to travel for a second straight summer on a trip that involves research. In the winter I was accepted to a program underwritten by the National Cemeteries Association (which is part of the Veterans Affairs Administration) that involves research on the Korean War.

That it's the Korean War, not World War II, is one difference between this summer's work and last summers. Additionally . . .

I'm learning about two servicemen, not just one.

There are no students.

The no students thing is a bit disheartening. I came to adore the fifteen young men and young women on last year's trip. However, it's nice that I get to do the researching.

But I'll see many familiar faces on this trip: Paul, Amy, Lynne . . .

And I'll have the chance to eulogize a fallen hero, and to immerse myself in a period of history.

And I'll have the chance to bring something back to my classroom that is shaped by what I see and do.

- - -

The research began in February w…


The family of the student I accompanied to Normandy in 2017 was gracious enough to invite us to her graduation party this weekend. Lauren and I came to know one another so well, we even got one another toys (for me a game, for her a Lego rendition of the Arc de Triomphe). I was also able to get her a copy of her superb paper for 2018 NHD that surprised her a bit.

Lauren mentioned something at the party, though, that made me just a bit jealous. She asked me if I was following the happenings of the 2018 Normandy Institute crew. My answer was, no (my passivity with Facebook has recently become outright laziness). Then she admitted that she was a little jealous seeing new people in our places from last year.

And now, so am I.

I guess it's time, finally, to complete my Normandy odyssey. Lauren has now graduated, her academic work involving the institute is complete. Part of the academic hangover for me is the intrigue I still find in memorializing and honoring the dead from the war. Th…