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Floyd Matthews with a photograph of himself taken after he joined the Navy at 16. Alabama's oldest veteran at age of 103, he was in naval training at the time the World War I armistice was signed.
AP photo by Matt McKean
Floyd Matthews with a photograph of himself taken after he joined the Navy at 16. Alabama's oldest veteran at age of 103, he was in naval training at the time the World War I armistice was signed.

State's oldest veteran recalls Navy years

FLORENCE (AP) — At 103 years, Alabama's oldest living veteran, Floyd Matthews, still holds fond memories of his career in the Navy, which he joined during the closing days of World War I.

Matthews, who moved into an assisted living facility when he returned to the Shoals area from Florida earlier this year, also maintains his trademark sense of humor as he insists he didn't lie about his age to get into the Navy when he was 16.

"I let the recruiter put 19 down as my age, and I signed the paper," Matthews said.

In recent interviews with the TimesDaily of Florence and Montgomery Advertiser, Matthews said he decided to join the Navy when he was unable to find a job after leaving the farm life of Loretto, Tenn., for Florence.

"What caused me to decide to join the Navy was more or less adventure," Matthews said.

His key to living a long life? "My standard answer is, `'Don't go out alone at night and stay out of dark alleys.' "

What does he spend most of his time doing now? "Trying to stay out of trouble."

Although he joined the Navy in May 1919, shortly after the armistice ended World War I, he is called a World War I-era veteran because the Treaty of Versailles was signed about a month later, his son, Bill Matthews, said.

Submariner

Floyd Matthews is also believed to be the second-oldest submarine veteran in the nation, according to his son. During his career, he served aboard seven submarines and assisted with training for escape devices used to rescue sailors trapped under water inside disabled vessels. He became an instructor on how to conduct the missions, and many lives have been saved by using his techniques.

He recalls learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the same day his son, John, was born. "That was a trying time," he said.

In World War II, Matthews was on a ship called the Diver that arrived at Omaha and Utah beaches the day after the invasion.

"We'd beach there temporarily. We took in mail and pulled off some sick people," he said.

Nuclear tests witness

In 1946, he witnessed two nuclear detonations while he was on the USS Chickasaw, which patrolled near the test site to provide security.

Matthews said the first detonation was 12 miles from the Chickasaw and the second was 18 miles away. He said one was under water and they were told to keep their arms over their eyes for protection during the blast.

"We cheated a little bit," he said. "I saw the waves and the cloud come up. Then the ripple effect came and the shock and awe. We felt the heat."

Matthews, who was a lieutenant commander by the time he retired, enjoyed the navy.

"People have to work for a living, anyway, and that's not a bad job," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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