Friday, April 4, 2014

HONORABLE SERVICE: Volunteer Drivers Serve Veteran

When the bombs began to drop on Pearl Harbor, 22-year-old Joe Mathias was on the bridge of the Case-DD370, a destroyer ship dismantled for repairs, looking toward the navy yard and waiting to instruct his fellow navy crew members to commence the Morning Colors Ceremony.  But his life, and the course of history, changed in an instant as the explosions interrupted his daily duties as Messenger to the Quartermaster. 

Joe stayed focused amidst the commotion.  As he carried a heavy box of ammunition across the ship, he was so close to Japanese fighter planes that he could see their pilots in the cockpits.  Later that evening, after engineers had fixed the Case-DD370 to allow it to move again, Joe and the rest of the crew received orders to drop a 600-pound canister of dynamite on a Japanese submarine that had been spotted in the harbor.  Joe has since read many reports about Pearl Harbor, but he says, “I’ve never seen that part in the history books!  And most of the stories that have been published aren’t the ones I know.”

Joe has an uncanny ability to lucidly recall details—names, dates, facts, foods, numbers, descriptions— from many events of his life.  He recounts his experiences from the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 as if they were yesterday, and he shares other stories from his youth, years in the navy, and adulthood with equally rich narration.  As he describes a bombardment while stationed on Attu in the Aleutian Islands, the suspense is palpable. 

But Joe also shares less dramatic pieces of his life.  He talks of becoming paralyzed due to Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 1968 and of his wife’s struggles with Alzheimer’s Disease prior to her death in 2007.  His life has been full of all sorts of unexpected challenges—each calling for a different type of bravery.

Joe is now 95, and he often uses the Volunteer Transportation program for needed rides.  The volunteer drivers who take him to/from medical appointments have the privilege of listening to his wide-ranging and vivid accounts.  It is an honor to learn from someone with such a repertoire of life experiences, and meeting people like Joe is what makes driving with the Volunteer Transportation program such a meaningful and enjoyable activity.  As Joe talks, it is easy to see the spirit of a young sailor infusing the true tales of this animated veteran.

This is 21-year-old Joe at Boot Camp in Great Lakes, Illinois.  As he shows this photo,
he chuckles and recalls seeing a sign that read, "Sailors and dogs, keep off the grass!" 
Joe's dog tags hang from his wall.  He explains the rather morbid purpose of
the ridges found at the end of them"They're placed into the teeth of
a dead man to identify him!" he says.
Joe holds onto a photo montage featuring many key ingredients of his life,
 including pictures with his wife (Phyllis) and images of the Case-DD370.  Ever the
storyteller, Joe quickly jumps into detailed descriptions of items and events
depicted in the collage. 


About Me

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“Behind the Wheel” offers stories, reflections, news and updates about Sound Generations’ (formerly Senior Services') Transportation Program. Throughout King County, our inspiring volunteers provide needed mobility to local seniors, supporting them in their efforts to remain independent, healthy, and happy. Please drop by to read more about the unique experiences of our volunteers, clients and staff!
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