Uncommon Valor part one: 1st Lt. Jack Mathis

1st Lt. Jack Mathis, Medal of Honor recipient from San Angelo who was stationed at Goodfellow Field, Texas. (Courtesy photo)

1st Lt. Jack Mathis, Medal of Honor recipient from San Angelo who was stationed at Goodfellow Field, Texas. (Courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by our country. The medal is often awarded posthumously, as the "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty" required for its presentation often claims the life of the recipient. These servicemembers offered their lives freely in defense of their country, and the United States will be forever grateful for their uncommon valor.

Five recipients of this medal trained here at Goodfellow Air Force Base. Another was born and is buried here in San Angelo. This series will tell the stories of these six men.

U.S. Army Air Corps First Lt. Jack Warren Mathis was born in San Angelo on Sept. 25, 1921. He enlisted in the Army in 1940 and was assigned to an artillery unit at Fort Sill, Okla., before transferring to Goodfellow Field to begin aviation cadet training with his brother, Mark. Upon graduation, the Mathis brothers were commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army Air Corps.

Jack Mathis was assigned to the 303rd Bombardment Group in England, flying 14 missions in the B-17 Flying Fortress before the mission which ended his life and earned him the Medal of Honor. His citation, detailing the events that day, reads:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy over Vegesack, Germany, on March 18, 1943. 1st Lt. Mathis, as leading bombardier of his squadron, flying through intense and accurate antiaircraft fire, was just starting his bomb run, upon which the entire squadron depended for accurate bombing, when he was hit by the enemy antiaircraft fire. His right arm was shattered above the elbow, a large wound was torn in his side and abdomen, and he was knocked from his bomb sight to the rear of the bombardier's compartment. Realizing that the success of the mission depended upon him, 1st Lt. Mathis, by sheer determination and willpower, though mortally wounded, dragged himself back to his sights, released his bombs, then died at his post of duty. As the result of this action the airplanes of his bombardment squadron placed their bombs directly upon the assigned target for a perfect attack against the enemy. 1st Lt. Mathis' undaunted bravery has been a great inspiration to the officers and men of his unit."

Mark Mathis, who was also assigned to the 303 BG, took 1st Lt. Mathis' place in the bomb crew after his brother's death, and was killed in action over the North Sea in May 1943. San Angelo Regional Airport Mathis Field and the Mathis Fitness Center on Goodfellow are named in honor of the two brothers who gave their lives for this country and the cause of freedom.

(This article is part one of a six-part series on Medal of Honor winners from Goodfellow Air Force Base and the San Angelo, Texas, area)