Genuine Leatherneck

I’ve been on the road recently but had the opportunity to stop by the National Museum of the Marine Corps the other day. Walking through the Iwo Jima exhibit I had the honor of meeting Frank Matthews, a docent at the museum who participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima when he was only 18 years old.

Frank Matthews, genuine leatherneck.

In his late 80’s Frank is the only Iwo vet working in a National Museum anywhere in the United States. In World War II Frank was a Private First Class with 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division and  the only surviving member of his platoon. Here he is talking about the landing:

It is always great to engage Marine veterans when the opportunity arises. You never know what nugget of history you will glean. Frank took a little time to share a quick story from after the battle when they got back aboard ship.

His 1stSgt ordered him to report to the galley for mess duty. Young Frank decided to roll the dice. Besides, after 36 days of combat, what’s the worst that would happen?

“1stSgt, you can’t send me to the galley.” This quite naturally began to stir the cauldrons of fury all Marine 1stSgts keep way down in the belly. Through gritted teeth the 1stSgt demanded clarification.

“1stSgt, I’m the only surviving member of my platoon. That makes me the acting platoon commander. You can’t send an acting officer to work in the galley.”

Frank related that his 1stSgt burst into full belly laughter, “…probably exactly what he needed.” Then he turned back to the young PFC.

“Matthews, get your tail down to the galley. I don’t care if you act like a Colonel down there.”

Seems relations between 1stSgts and their Marines haven’t changed much since the Old Corps.

Another gem from Frank:

I envy any Marine who is able to tell a story involving a flame thrower.

Semper Fi!
America’s 1stSgt

/ / / /


  1. “I was more afraid of the Gunny Sgt than the Japanese…” Ha! I love listening to WWII vets talk. My great uncle was UDT in WWII and in the first SEAL teams in Vietnam. We’ve been trying to get him to record all that history in his head, but he’s a crusty old bugger and is resisting! He doesn’t care about the argument that when he’s gone, they’ll be lost; probably because it hasn’t entered his mind that he isn’t going to live forever. Perhaps he should have been a Marine. Oh, well, it’s all Department of the Navy, right? 😀 (Did I just get myself banned, 1st Sgt? I apologize. We’ll just blame it on sunspots, or temporary insanity or what not.)

  2. Sisu, just trick him into telling war stories while you secretly record him. Or write them down as he tells them. And don’t worry, NavyOne has banned himself 10 times over and I still let him hang around.

    CI Roller, he was great. He later took a commission and then got out and taught college for 43 years. He had no connections with the Marine Corps again until he came by the museum and they begged him to be a docent.

  3. Mike, my ships reunion was held in Waterloo, IA, this year, and as Judy and I were pulling in on Tuesday, the Marines Of Iwo were finishing up their reunion. There were six left and this was their last reunion. I was privileged to talk to a couple of them and they said they were disbanding because they felt none of them would be here next year. They were in their 80’s and one 93. And they are all having health problems.

    In taking to them, I could feel and hear their pride in being a Marine, the sadness they felt for those left behind and for the disbanding of their organization and not being able to see their pals again. I would love to have been at their last meeting before going home…but it was closed to members and family only. I can only imagine.

    Later, as they left, I proudly got to shake their hands and wish them an easy and speedy trip home. They knew I meant for an easy and speedy trip to patrolling The Streets of Gold – as is a Marines final duty.

  4. Great to see you back, 1st. In today’s world I worry when a Milblogger drops off the scope.

    Thanks for the post. I, too, enjoy hearing the old guys stories. (wait, I’m old!) I had an uncle in the 82nd and another flew a P-51. Never got to hear theirs.

    Lately I’ve begun to record my own stories and crap that doesn’t really matter to me anymore but I know when I’m not here, my kids might be interested in. After my Dad passed I realized how much I wished I knew about him. How many questions I “should” have asked.

    It’s been quite an adventure. The internet has helped a lot. I’ve found old pictures and stories about guys, places, etc., that I was in some way associated with. Great memories.

    I encourage any and all who might happen to read this to do the same. I know your loved ones will one day appreciate it. And you’ll enjoy it.

    Again, welcome back!

  5. Coffey, sadly we are losing that part of our living history far too fast. Glad you got to meet some of them.

    CrewDog, glad to be back! I tried to get my old man to record some of his tales but alas I was overseas and unable to make it happen. Every once in a while if I remember a good story he told me I try to retell it here.

  6. Top, I stopped by again and looked the the flame thrower video. We actually still used those in the 1970’s. I got trained on one in Berlin…what a badass weapon…it was just as deadly for the operator as is was for those on the other end. That’s the only weapon I was ever afraid of using.

  7. CI Roller, dangerous smangerous. You’re just not cool unless you’ve handled a flamethrower. This puts me firmly in the uncool category but everybody needs a goal.

    Kristine, Flamethrowers are the coolest! 😉

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