Monday, October 12, 2015
I remember having a neighbor across the street in a German neighborhood of a small Pennsylvania town. His name was Butch Matz. He was an aloof guy and seemed strange to me as a child. But hey, I was a strange kid, who am I to judge? Mr. Matz had an Irish Setter dog named “Red.” He loved that dog and it was obvious. Treated it like a human child, he did. His wife, Dotty, was a little odd too, but we all accepted it. I never saw her leave the second floor of their home. She’d yell out the window to talk over the fence. That’s the best it ever got. They didn’t have any children. Dotty’s mother, Mrs. Spohn, lived across the street. Mrs. Spohn was a tough PA Dutch lady. It was a tight knit community.
One day when I was a troubled teenager, having just dropped out of high school, my Grandmother asked me to go over and help Mr. Matz, who needed his fence painted. Although I loathed working, I respected the sacrifices of my Grandmother and would do anything for her, so I agreed. Upon reporting for the work detail, Mr. Matz had a can of silver coat paint for the chain link fence and a brush. I set into the task on a hot August day in the late 1980’s.
During the laborious process Mr. Matz came outside occasionally to supervise. During one such excursion he enlightened me on the younger days of his life. Oh brother, I thought. He began by telling of the outbreak of WWII and being a young male he felt obligated to enlist to serve his country. He continued in telling the rite of passage in boot camp for he and his platoon of 50 service men. At the end of boot camp training everyone except he and another man got their orders of assignment. He went to his platoon sergeant and inquired about the omission. The sergeant told him not to worry. The orders; they would come in a few days. He sat idle and eventually his orders did come through and he served in the European Theater. He stated all 48 men in his platoon who received the first set of orders perished on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day.
He said he knew then that his calling was to be a minister. Upon discharge he was a minister in a church and eventually retired. I had no idea and thought, at the time, it was an interesting story. Later, I was to be incredibly impressed. More than 20 years later, and after my own service in the Marine Corps, I came across Mr. Matz’s obituary. He was the recipient of a purple heart and five (5) bronze stars. My eyes welled with tears. He never said a thing about what he did, and no one will probably ever know the specifics. Such an unassuming man, but one never knows. Just the old neighbor next door.
I still own my childhood home. It is vacant and out of respect to the neighbors, and maybe my own unwillingness to let go of the past, it will remain as such. I check on it occasionally and think of the experiences in life’s growth I had there, Mr. Matz being one of them. Thank you Sir, I won’t forget.