Recognizing the history in a name – Mathis Fitness Center

A painting of U.S. Army Air Corps. 1st Lt. Jack Mathis, 359 Bombardment Squadron, along with brother 1st Lt. Mark Mathis, 359 Bombardment Squadron, hangs in the San Angelo Regional Air Port terminal, also known as Mathis Field, in dedication to their service. Jack, a Medal of Honor recipient, was raised in San Angelo, Texas and trained at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and was honored for his services by having the Mathis Fitness Center on Goodfellow named after him.

A painting of U.S. Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Jack Mathis, 359 Bombardment Squadron, along with brother 1st Lt. Mark Mathis, 359 Bombardment Squadron, hangs in the San Angelo Regional Airport terminal, also known as Mathis Field, in dedication to their service. Jack, a Medal of Honor recipient, was raised in San Angelo, Texas and trained at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and was honored for his services by having the Mathis Fitness Center on Goodfellow named after him. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Zachary Chapman/Released)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- With a monthly average of 21,244 patrons, it is easy to say the Mathis Fitness Center is well known, but do people know where it got its name?

The Mathis Fitness Center was built on nearly the same spot as the original base gym, which it replaces, and was named after Medal of Honor recipient Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Jack Mathis, 359 Bombardment Squadron lead bombardier, in 1966.

Mathis died on March 19, 1943 on a mission over Vegesack, Germany. According to Army Air Corps Maj. Herbert Kalhoefer, 359 Bombardment Squadron operation officer, Mathis’s aircraft was hit by an enemy shell and blown away from his bombsight. Although mortally wounded, Mathis dropped his bombs accurately before dying.

After Mathis’ death, his brother, Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Mark Mathis, 359 Bombardment Squadron bombardier, asked to be transferred to Jack’s squadron to take his place. Mark even flew on the “Duchess,” the same plane that Jack was assigned and used the same bombsights as well.

“It was an honor and a privilege to have had men like the Mathis brothers in the 359 Squadron,” said Kalhoefer.

Before Mathis was able to accomplish this, he was stationed at Goodfellow as permanent party member.

According to 17th Training Wing Historian John Garrett, “Jack grew up locally and served on Goodfellow in the early 1940s.”

Jack went through his training at Concho Field, bombardier school, which is now the San Angelo Regional Airport terminal, also known as Mathis Field. 

When asked the importance of honoring our past and the figures that forged it, Garrett answered, “On the simplest level, it is a way to express our gratitude. But on a deeper level, when we honor figures like Jack Mathis, we are honoring the values and principles for which they sacrificed so much. In a sense, we're bonding with them along these shared values.”

As Goodfellow has changed with time so has the Mathis Fitness Center itself.

Originally, in 1995, the gym consisted of 31,321 square feet, but new additions in March 2011 added 14,900 sq. ft. bringing it to a total of 46,221 according to 17th Force Support Squadron Sports Recreation Assistant Johnny Bustos.

“The fitness center provides the Goodfellow populace a free and safe facility that allows them to continue to meet the required fitness standards,” said Bustos. “To accomplish this, there are intramural sports throughout the year. Monthly special events such as a 5K, triathlon and Sports Day. The newest addition was the Alpha Warrior.”