Memorial Day means different things to different people.
The dictionary definition is a day of remembering those who gave their lives in service to the country, but an individual’s perspective affects how that is interpreted, said retired Air Force MSgt Thomas Matusch, the featured speaker at Brookfield’s Memorial Day ceremony.
As a 16-year-old kid in Brookfield, Memorial Days meant “One extra day to go fishing at Pymatuning reservoir,” he said. “I wasn’t being disrespectful. Basically, I didn’t have the knowledge or the experience to know what Memorial Day truly meant.”
The 1982 Brookfield High School grad entered the Air Force that year and studied Air Force history. He was drawn to the story of Sgt. John L. Levitow, the lowest-ranking member of the Air Force to be awarded the military’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor.Levitow, injured when his attack cargo plane came under fire over Vietnam, grabbed a lit flare, crawled to the cargo bay of the plane and threw the flare out of the plane, which was loaded with ammunition, just before the flare exploded.
“He didn’t die; however, he was ready to give his life in service for his country,” Matusch said. “At this point, I had gained the knowledge, but I really hadn’t experienced truly what it means to give life for the country.”
The knowledge came when Matusch was deployed to Panama, and an acquaintance, Master Sgt. Joseph Beard, was sucked out of a plane that came under attack while doing drug interdiction work.The most moving part of Beard’s emotional funeral was the roll call ceremony, in which each of the 13 crew membersresponded to his name being called.
“The last person the announcer said, ‘Beard.’ There was silence. Then, again, he said, ‘Beard.’ And still silence. On the third time he said, ‘Master Sgt. Joseph Beard.’ There was silence and then a lone trumpet from a distance played ‘Taps.’”
His perspective shifted again in 2014 when his son, Derek, enlisted in the Air Force. Derek served in Jordan at a time when a fellow airman died when a desert shelter collapsed during a sandstorm, and at an Afghanistan air base that was subject to regular mortar fire.
“As a father, I experienced the worry and fear of my son could be the next comrade,” he said.
In summing up what Memorial Day means to him, Matusch said:
“It’s a day to give thinks to all the men and women who have given their lives in defense of this country. However, for me, it means more. I also give thanks to the family, the friends, the workmates of these fallen comrades. They don’t only remember the death of a soldier on Memorial Day. They remember the death of their soldier for the rest of their lives.”
Veterans in top photo are, from left, Jaime Fredenburg, Ellwood Walker, John Jablonski, Jim Miller, George Chomos, Thomas Matusch and Dan Suttles.