Family of soldiers killed, missing in WWII earns Sullivan award

Two U.S. soldiers dug into the snow and dirt east of Bastogne, Belgium, man .50 caliber machine guns as they keep an eye out for German troops during the Battle of the Bulge.


By PAT KINNEY | Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 25, 2017

WATERLOO, Iowa — In early 1945 an Iowa soldier stood over his brother’s grave in Europe following the Battle of the Bulge.

Weeks prior to that, his own fate had been unknown to the rest his family.

Curtis Mather of Ottumwa was a corporal in the 84th Infantry Division. He was a Jeep driver — he named the vehicle “Effie May” after his wife. But in January 1945 she received an ominous telegram.

Out on a resupply mission, he’d become separated from his unit in December at the start of the Bulge, a massive German offensive in which many units were overrun. He found himself 20 miles behind enemy lines at the onset of the offensive and unable to contact his outfit. He was declared missing in action.

After two weeks, he was found alive after working his way back to Allied lines, and rejoined his outfit. A short time later, his brother Otis, also of Ottumwa, was killed in action Jan. 19, 1945, serving with the 10th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 5th Infantry Division, part of the U.S. Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton Jr. The division had been involved in action along the Sauer River, pushing the Germans back. A Jeep Otis was in was attacked and he was killed.

Curtis and his family settled in Waterloo after the war. The Mather brothers are just two members of their family who served in the military over four generations — dating back to when their grandfather, George Mather, and great-uncle David, served in two Ohio regiments of the Union Army during the Civil War.

For that reason, the Mather family is receiving the Grout Museum District’s Sullivan Brothers Outstanding Military Family Award for exemplary community service. They’ll receive it at the Grout’s annual fundraising event, “An Evening at the Museum” on Saturday at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum. The museum and award are named for the five Waterloo brothers who died together during World War II.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Byron Mather Jr., Curtis’ grandson, who served in the Army and Army Reserve from 1983 through 2006. “I always knew my grandpa was in and he talked about how his brother was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.” Curtis Mather died in 1981.

Byron Jr.’s father, and Curtis’ son, Byron Sr., now of Arizona, served with the U.S. Air Force 1st Air Commando Group in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including service in Vietnam. His brother, Curtis’ son and longtime Waterloo Schools educator Jim Mather, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and Army Reserve from 1968 through 2002, including service in Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989.

“We’re very excited about being honored with this award, since our family has been dedicated to the United States (armed) services since 1861,” said Byron Jr.’s wife, Vickie Trent, a retired University of Northern Iowa professor, the unofficial family historian. “We have this long history of military commitment, and we’re proud that they were able to support our freedom.”

She, Byron Jr. and Jim said the recognition is especially significant for Byron Sr., because his Vietnam service predated the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution that President Johnson used to escalate the war. Prior to that, some 16,000 Americans served there as “military advisers” without a formal declaration of war.

In Vietnam, Byron Sr.’s unit, nicknamed the “Jungle Jims,” would fly into combat in outdated World War II era aircraft and drop supplies to troops under fire. Byron Sr. is returning from Arizona for the award.

Byron Jr. said he and his father, like Curtis, were able to visit Otis’ grave in Luxembourg, in the same cemetery where Patton is buried.

“When I was stationed in Germany, my dad came over and we went,” in the early ‘90s, Byron Jr. said. Asked what that experience was like, he could only muster a sigh, with a lump in his throat.

©2017 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)
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