Korean War Air Force veteran heads to DC for Wall of Remembrance

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Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Donell “Don” Mathews flew dozens of daredevil night combat missions during the Korean War along and near the infamous MiG Alley as an onboard navigator B-26 Invader bombers.

“We were going down low looking for trucks, trains, ammunition dumps, searchlights, anti-aircraft batteries,” recalls Mathews, who served his korean war combat tour of 1951-52.

Mathews retired from the Air Force in 1977 and built a house in Suntree the following year. He flew to Washington, D.C., to attend the 1992 Flag Day groundbreaking ceremony for the Korean War Veterans Memorial (with a speech by President George W. Bush). And he went to the memorial dedication ceremony in 1995 (with a speech by President Bill Clinton).

Now Mathews – who celebrated his 96th birthday on Saturday – returns to the nation’s capital. He will attend the dedication ceremony for a new granite Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on Wednesday.

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This major extension to the National Mall will bear the names of more than 36,000 Americans who lost their lives during the war, as well as the names of more than 7,100 Koreans who died working alongside the US military.

“You have people who want their husbands, their sons, their grandparents, those who fought to be recognized,” said Mathews, dressed in a red sports jacket with a 13 Squadron “Grim Reapers” patch. gold thread bombers.

“And of course the Korean War Memorial is very inspiring. It’s just beautiful, but there are no names on it,” Mathews said.

“There will be the names of five, or more, I have flown with who have sadly lost their lives,” he said.

In this FLORIDA TODAY front page photo from July 1995, Don Mathews (right) stands with fellow Air Force 13th Bomber Squadron veteran Charles Hinton of Satellite Beach at the new Veterans Memorial in the Korean War before his inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C. Hinton died in 2018.

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A total of 5.8 million Americans served in the military during the Korean War from June 1950 to July 1953. The list of casualties includes 8,200 soldiers missing in action, buried at sea or lost – and 103,284 others were injured, the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation reports.

The eye-catching memorial features 19 stainless steel statues of soldiers wearing ponchos. Each stands about 8 feet tall amidst juniper bushes.

The Memorial Wall project was funded by $22 million in donations from the United States and the Republic of Korea, the National Park Service reported.

“During the construction of this project (in the 1990s), veterans would come and say, ‘Hey, where’s the wall with the names on it?’ And I said to them: ‘You have the wrong project. Looking for Vietnam,” recalls retired Colonel Rick Dean, vice president of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation.

“And they said, ‘No, my foxhole buddy was killed in Korea,'” Dean said.

“Right now, this memorial is doing a great job of honoring those who served and what they accomplished. But it’s not doing the ultimate in honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. declared.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the armed forces during the Three Year War.

Of the 100 granite panels of the new Memorial Wall, the first 84 bear the names of Army veterans. The next 10 panels list the names of the Marine Corps, followed by the Navy with two panels and the Air Force with the last four.

Dean said the names of the dead are sorted by rank and then listed alphabetically. The organizers chose to list the lowest enlisted ranks first before moving up to the higher ranks, illustrating the toll of the fights for the general public.

He said that 53 of the 100 panels contain the names of the first private classes of the army: “War is devastating for the young generation.

“These guys were 17, 18, and 19, and they made their ultimate sacrifice to stand up for freedom and democracy,” Dean said.

“Just think of what they could have brought if they had lived a full life,” he said.

For Dean, the Wall of Remembrance is personal. His grandfather, Air Force Colonel John R. Lovell, is named after him.

Lovell was on a reconnaissance mission in December 1950 over the Yalu River when Russian MiG-15s shot down his RB-45C Tornado bomber. He was taken prisoner by Chinese troops and then beaten to death by North Korean civilians, reports the Korean War Project. His body has never been found.

“So my grandfather is still missing. His name is on this wall. And it’s a family story. This is my sacred ground for my grandfather and for the other families of missing in action,” Dean said.

“It was a tribute to my grandmother who lived 50 years without her husband coming home, as well as to my mother,” he said.

Suntree resident Don Mathews (bottom right) smiles in a photo early in his military career.

Born in 1926 in Wauchula in rural Hardee County — with 11 siblings — Mathews is a product of Florida’s bygone past.

He remembers walking 2.5 miles along a sandy dirt road to and from Oak Grove High School, and his house had no electricity or telephone. The water came from a pitcher pump.

Around this time, Mathews and his classmates attended “strawberry school” during the summer so they could take time off to pick strawberries and do farm chores during the winter months.

He graduated from Wauchula High School in 1942 at the age of 16, after working two years shining shoes in a barbershop.

Mathews enlisted in the Army Air Corps in July 1944 and became a tail gunner on B-29 Superfortress long-range bombers. Its last flight was in August 1945, the month the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending World War II.

During the Korean War, Mathews logged 43 missions from Kunsan Air Base near the Yellow Sea – he said they only flew at night due to the deadly threat of Soviet-built MiG-15 fighters .

Mathews later served as Deputy Director of Personnel for Pacific Command during the final years of the Vietnam War. After retiring from the Air Force in 1977, he worked for The Kroger Co. and Kimberly-Clark Corp.

Don Mathews, a retired US Air Force colonel who turned 96 on Saturday, smiles next to his collection of military photographs at Suntree Country Club.

FLORIDA TODAY ran a front-page photo on July 26, 1995, showing Mathews wearing his red sports jacket at the new Korean War Veterans Memorial. He stood alongside his friend Charles Hinton, a retired Air Force major who logged 50 combat missions with the 13th Bomber Squadron as a B-26 navigator.

Hinton, a Satellite Beach resident who founded Brevard County’s Seniors at Lunch program, detailed his wartime experiences in his 2014 book “Korea: A Short Time in a Small War.” He died at age 90 in 2018.

Mathews still plays golf two or three times a week – he has been a member of Suntree Country Club since July 1978. The club celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2016.

Among his Korean War stories, he recalls a grueling December 1951 combat mission when his B-26 flew so low over North Korea’s Haeju Peninsula that he could see seated soldiers around campfires.

In fact, Mathews said the pilot mistakenly flew so low he could not lower his nose to fire at an anti-aircraft battery. And the plane almost ran out of fuel.

“The next mission he did, he didn’t come back,” Mathews said.

Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog reporter at FLORIDA TODAY (for more of his stories, click here.) Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or [email protected]. Twitter: @RickNeale1

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