Inspiring Okeechobee Local veteran goes on honor flight

OKEECHOBEE — As you are waking up this morning, so is Richard “Dick” Mattern; however, he will be waking up after his first whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. Dick was selected to

Dick Mattern was chosen to go on a Southeast Florida Honor Flight, organized by an all-volunteer organization based in Stuart.

go on an Honor Flight to our nation’s capital along with nearly 80 other south Florida residents who served in either World War II or the Korean War. As part of the Southeast Florida Honor Flight, Dick and his daughter Dorothy departed at 3:30 a.m. yesterday to meet others in West Palm Beach and fly to Washington, DC for the day. Each veteran chosen goes all expenses paid.

Southeast Florida Honor Flight is an all-volunteer organization based in Stuart, and it is the hub which serves veterans on the Treasure Coast. Most veterans chosen are WWII veterans; however, the organization gives top priority to the most senior veterans no matter the war they served in. Younger veterans who are terminally ill have also been taken on honor flights. Veterans are escorted by volunteers, a family member if possible and “guardians” who are personally assigned to the veterans.

Dick who was born in 1928 was a Midwest farmer when he received his draft papers in his early twenties. Two of Dick’s brothers were also called to serve, leaving two brothers and his father to run the family farm. He served in the 101st Airborne for two years, two days.

He recalls serving in the K company, but the inside joke was that he and his friends served in the “E company” as in “easy.” Dick recalls passing a sign at his base, where they were seeking men who wished to learn to cook for the troops. They signed up and were assigned to Ft. Knox, Kentucky for cook school. Later he was transferred to Camp Breckenridge. While he was slated to tour overseas three different times, the commander made it clear that Dick’s skills as a cook were needed at the base for all the new recruits and of course for the commander! Dick recalls cooking using fire fueled stoves with coal, certainly with none of today’s conveniences. When he was asked to reenlist, Dick declined and returned home to get married to his wife, Judy in November of 1952. He noted that he had to return to the base for two days after the wedding, to be discharged from the Army. Judy said that “he still fits in his uniform.” Dick also quipped that he never had the desire to cook again!

Dick’s unit in the military. Look carefully, he is marked with an arrow.

Dick and Judy returned to run the family farm for many years, and when he was not on the farm, he was delivering RVs to other parts of the country. Dick also used his talents in construction to earn money, relating that he worked with the Amish quite often, because he could drive all of them to the construction sites.

Dick and Judy raised six children: Denise, Douglas, Dick, Jr., Donna, Dianne and Dorothy.

The children are spread from Michigan to Texas to Florida.

Son Douglas was killed in a tragic accident in 1976 while traveling in Mississippi. Son Dick, Jr. was a missionary in Nairobi and Zaire for nearly twenty years, which afforded the Matterns the opportunity to travel to visit him in Africa.

In 1989, when Judy’s parents were elderly, Dick and Judy decided to spend more time in Florida. While Judy’s parents lived in the Jupiter area, the Matterns wanted a slower pace so they moved to Okeechobee. They wintered here for a few years, but eventually called Okeechobee home. During all of this, Dick was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and is now a 28-year cancer survivor.

Dick and Judy joined the Methodist Church, where he has served as an usher for many years while Judy has been active in the ladies’ ministries as well as with the Blood Round Up. They have 13 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Dick is not only an inspiration to his family, but to our community. Sir, thank you for your service to our country.

If you want more information about Honor Flights, check out their Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/honorflight.

Cap commemorating Honor Flight

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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