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Former paratrooper shares memories

George Matteson served 1949-72

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POSTED: December 2, 2013 10:40 a.m.
Photo by Randy C. Murray/

One of George Matteson's photographs is from inside a plane during his jump school training.

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One doesn’t have to be crazy to be a paratrooper, but one does have to be tough.
That’s the way retired paratrooper George Matteson of Hinesville summed up the 24 years he served as an infantry paratrooper. Matteson served in every airborne unit the Army had from 1949-72 and jumped from just about every airplane or helicopter flown by the Army and Air Force.
Matteson, 84, looks back on his military service with some ambivalence. He treasures the memories of serving with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and smaller units like the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team and 173rd Airborne Brigade. However, he lost several friends during his tours in the Korean War and Vietnam.
Matteson said he doesn’t meet anyone he served with when he takes part in airborne-association conventions. There aren’t a lot of paratroopers his age around anymore, he said. He laughed when he related how he’s often teased by fellow veterans in this area who never opted to “jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”
On Nov. 21, Matteson talked about his airborne memorabilia, including numerous black and white photographs hanging on the wall, his original Army dress greens uniform with a combat patch for the 187th Airborne RCT and 3rd Army unit patch. He also showed off an autographed copy of Lt. Gen. Gerard M. Devlin’s book, “Paratrooper!”
“I don’t know why I hung onto all my jump-school stuff so long,” Matteson said, pointing to a picture frame on the wall that contained tiny pictures. “That’s my jump-school graduation picture right there. It was 1949. That’s the graduation certificate next to it. You see I was trained not only as a paratrooper, but also as a glider.”
Matteson said his first airborne assignment after airborne school was with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. Two years later, he was in Korea with the 187th Airborne RCT. He came back to Fort Bragg from Korea in 1952, this time serving with the 505th PIR.
He said he later was sent to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., “just in time” for the Vietnamese army’s Tet Offensive in January 1968. At that time, he said he was part of security detail for the 32nd Medical Battalion. When he came home to Fort Campbell, he was reassigned again, this time to Okinawa, where the Army was forming the 173th Airborne Brigade. Then it was right back to Vietnam.
“I did a little bit of everything,” Matteson said. “I was infantry mostly, but my last unit was an armor unit. I went to Germany as a forward observer for a mortar battery. When I got ready to retire, they wanted me to stay in and be an instructor. By then, I was ready to go.”
Matteson said he always asks older veterans who have photos or memorabilia to contact their old units about donating things to them. It’s a great way to preserve unit history, he said.
In September, he and a fellow paratrooper, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Ashmen, travelled to Fort Bragg so Matteson could present a copy of a large black-and-white picture of the 504th PIR to the 82nd Airborne Division’s current 1st Airborne Brigade Combat Team commander and command sergeant major.
The picture shows Matteson’s unit standing on the runway wearing full combat gear and parachutes with their jump aircraft in the background. The picture was taken in 1951, just before he left for Korea.
The colonel asked him if he’d like to say anything to the new generation of paratroopers standing tall in front of him. He told them it was his privilege to be back at Fort Bragg and the 504th PIR where he started his career 64 years ago.
In addition to the presentation, Matteson was invited to watch a new generation of paratroopers make a jump from a C-130. As he stood on the drop zone and watched several dozen paratroopers jump from the Hercules aircraft, his heart swelled with pride and his mind filled with memories.
It was good to be “back home” at “the home of the Airborne,” he said.

 

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