“Matuse” by Hardie Matthews

Editor's Note: Hardie Matthews is an 88-year-old who lives in Pasadena, Texas, a suburb of Houston, but lived in Van Horn as a kid. Hardie began communicating with Lisa and me after we made some changes to the Advocate. For the last three years, he has kept in touch with us by email. He loves to tell stories, and unfortunately, we received this one after deadline yesterday. It is fitting for Veterns Day:

By Hardie Matthews

True story; no
fiction to glue the facts together.

On the troop
train from Incheon – North Korea – to Pusan – South Korea – I met
Matuse.That trip was only 100 miles.Yet, in going
through guerilla lines, then the combat zone, out to guerilla lines again, and
then, finally Pusan, Matuse and I had three weeks to bond.

 

And that we
did. We couldn't eat anything because that would cause us to have to
go to the bathroom. That bathroom was filled with our duffel bags. We slept on
wooden, plank bunks, which were chained to the interior side of the train
car. There were eight bunks in our railroad car; four on either side of
the car. We were told to keep our metal helmets on at all times to
protect us from any bullets. And that was given also as the reason to keep on all our
clothing.

Because it was
winter time in December, all that clothing felt good and we were relatively
warm. Finally our choo-choo train slowed down for the lasttime.We
grabbed our duffel bags,
got off the train and loaded into those big old Army trucks that took us across
Pusan to a huge building.

Unloading onto
a large asphalt area parking lot, we waited and waited to go into that huge building.There
was a big sign that proclaimed that building to be the “756th Infantry
Division Personnel Depot.” We called it the Repel Depot.

Finally, the
doors opened, and we went inside, single file.Over the PA system we
were told to find any bunk, put our duffel bag in it and go to the shower
room.That we did. The shower room was huge and had row after row of
conventional bathroom sinks with big bars of soap.I turned on the water
spigot and sure enough, out came scalding hot water.Before dosing my face
with that beautiful stuff called water, I looked at myself in the
mirror.My face was just like all the others; that is, black as it
could be.We reasoned that was because of the choo-choo train’s coal
dust.

Also, because
we wore our steel helmets night and day, nearly all of us had bald heads. The
older men had gray hair; there was not even one gray hair when we began that
three-week journey in the Asia paradise of the Korean Peninsula.

 

So, Matuse and
I, and everyone else, washed our face and hands, then went back to our bunks
and the PA system told us to line up for chow. And we did.

As
we entered the kitchen area, we saw a posting for KPs. KP is the acronym
for kitchen police, meaning men for washing pots and pans and serving the
troops. Matuse and I talked it over and decided that's what we would
do. We reasoned in that manner, we would get all we wanted to eat.
Were we ever right!

That was the
best decision ever made by either of us. It was about two or three days after
Christmas. Everything was bouncing along fine, then one morning, Matuse,
Sergeant Biil Williams and I were called to the Orderly Room and told the next
day, we three would be interviewed by a Warrant Officer from Eighth Army
Headquarters.

I remember
little Matuse's response.”Now what did we do, Mat?” Matuse was
one of the smallest soldiers I have ever known, and so very, VERY funny. Shy
until you got to know him. He was engaged to Maria, and had met her
in the Haggar pants factory in Chicago. They fell in love and planned an elaborate
wedding, but then Matuse's Army Reserve orders came in and Matuse had Maria
cancel the wedding.

 

I well
understood because I felt the same about the love of my life in World War
II. Jeanie (not her real name) of Van Horn, Texas, said she would wait for
me, but just as I arrived at a place of horror in Germany called Dachau, I got
a letter from her telling me she was marrying a cowboy.

I didn't want
to live. She had been the love of my life since first grade. Matuse
got stacks of letters from Maria. He told me those letters kept him going.
Then one morning on the bulletin board were the names of all the men except me. On
the back page was my name. I was going to Eighth Army Headquarters. I
have forgotten to which Army organization my buddies were going, but
they were to be combat troops.

The following
morning on what we called the parade ground, each man was issued a clip of
ammunition; that is, eight bullets. Thirty men were lined up behind
one old rattle trap, U.S. Army
truck.I was standing alone waiting for my truck, and up came a
sergeant in a starched fatigue uniform. He said, “You must be PFC Hardie Matthews. “I
told him I was, and he said to come with him to his little three-quarter ton
truck and he would take me to Eighth Army Headquarters.

Just as I was
going to step into that little truck, I saw Matuse in line. I waved to him, and
he, me. I told that sergeant, “That's my best buddy. Let me tell
him goodbye.” I started walking toward little Matuse, and he,
me. We met about half way.

Tiny Matuse looked up at me and
said:”Mat. Why me? Why? Why? And Mat, what's going
to happen to Maria? What's going to happen to her?” I couldn't
say anything, nor could he. We just stood there for a couple of centuries, and
then, simultaneously, walked away. And, I've always wondered, what
did happen to Maria? What happened to her?