A fine example of wartime character

Published 7:57 pm Monday, August 9, 2010

The United States Department of Defense estimates that more than 1,000 veterans of World War II die every day. Some other estimates put that number closer to 1,200. Either way, veterans’ cemeteries around the nation are increasingly busy burying the elderly men and women who fought in Europe, Asia and Africa more than 60 years ago.

And increasingly Americans are beginning to realize what a great historical resource they are losing with the passing of that greatest generation. Many volumes have been written through the years about the circumstances of that war and of the perils that America’s men and women overseas faced in the fight against tyranny. Still, though, the best lessons are taught face to face, and the loss of those who saw the horrors of World War II with their own eyes means fewer young Americans will be able to learn about the heroes who fought for us from those who were on the scene at the time.

Senior Master Sgt. Norman R. “Jack” Matthews was one of those heroes. A survivor of the Bataan Death March 68 years ago, he spent 42 months as a prisoner of war in Japanese prison camps. He watched his brother die of starvation as a prisoner, he watched others tortured and he watched some who, like himself, bravely fought to simply stay alive through the horrible months of confinement and abuse.

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Matthews told his story many times, for newspapers and for at least one book author, to friends and to fellow veterans. But those who heard him talk never had a sense of him trying to build himself up through those stories. Instead, there was always a sense that history needed to know about Jack Matthews and the others who were in Bataan with him.

On Sunday, Matthews’ friends at Suffolk Post No. 57 of the American Legion honored the memory of Matthews — who died in March 2009 — by renaming their post the Norman “Jack” Matthews Post 57. It was a fitting tribute to a man whose courage and strength of character were examples of the fine spirit that helped America to victory in that horrible war. That a World War II veteran should be the namesake for the post is also an appropriate honor for a generation that will not long be with us.

Congratulations, Post 57, and thank you Senior Master Sgt. Jack Matthews.