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Showing posts from July, 2018

News from Korea and the Work of the DPAA

I just caught an interesting news story in the Washington Post. You can read here of how the U.S. has received the remains of Americans missing from the Korean War. Toward the middle of the article, it mentions a center in Hawaii that houses a forensics lab for the identification of remains. The facility is where the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency does the important work of identifying the remains of America's servicemen lost overseas.

The New York Times also has coverage of this story. Here is their article.

On Monday the group of teachers on the Memorializing the Fallen trip had a chance to tour parts of this facility and learn of the work of this agency. They prize themselves on the important and challenging work that they do. Their work goes beyond forensics. Anthropology and archaeology are central to this work too. Military know how, also, as it's usually a small contingent of active duty armed forces that lead these missions.

Dignity and honor is also central to it.…

Eulogizing

Today I got my opportunity to deliver a eulogy for my fallen hero. Lauren had this opportunity last year and I enjoyed seeing her create, revise, and practice so that she could do well by Bill.


The other teachers and I put a great deal of thought into our eulogies. Many of us were editing and revising through this week . . . a lot of tweaking. In fact, I didn't finish tweaking mine until 6:09 this morning.

I was proud of my finished product. I had an abundance of information from his personnel file, and the story of his life in there provided a lot of good material for a eulogy. One limitation I had was that my attempts to reach family didn't get any responses, so I didn't have the personal anecdotes some of my peers could employ.

In some ways my eulogy was more brusque than what the other teachers offered. But when I was finished, the representative from the Veterans Administration accompanying us paid me a pretty high compliment: that I delivered a eulogy a Marine would …

About that previous air war . . .

Our learning today took place at the Pacific Aviation Museum. Tomorrow I'll have another chance to photograph some of the exhibits on the aircraft from the Korean War. Today, though, I went to the area of the museum showcasing World War II aircraft.

At first I was a little disappointed. My favorite plane, the F4U, was nowhere to be found. Nor could I find the F6F (Hellcat) which was the workhorse fighter for our Navy in the war.

But then I realized what they were up to: it's an exhibit dedicated toe the aircraft that characterized the first year of the war in the Pacific. In other words, the planes that were outdated: too slow, too lightly armed, too ungainly (as a retired Air Force pilot quipped today: a plane flies like it looks . . . if it looks pretty it flies pretty, if it looks ugly . . . ). Eventually these ugly ducklings were replaced by the more beautiful aircraft that capture our imagination.

Here are some pictures of these homely planes.




Interesting note: When we b…

A Little Bit about the Air War

Dumb little joke with my students: I often assert that my first love in history was the War War II, in particular the story of aviation in that war. If we were to get very, very narrow, I'd say that it was the plans America flew in that war. This project has given me a chance to indulge in that old love a little bit, and learn about what happened with that topic in the Korean War. 
The Air War in Korea is both a fascinating and maddening topic. Fascinating in that a lot went unexpectedly for the United States. At the beginning of that war, we found ourselves outclassed by what the Communists were flying. Our F-80s and F-84s really just couldn't keep up with their MiGs. Eventually our F-86s closed the gap between what our assets and theirs could do. 

An admission: I don't find those cutting edge planes from Korean nearly as attractive as our stalwarts from World War II, or as attractive as the next generation of jets which came into service later in the 1950s and 1960s. 
T…

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…

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…