W. F. “Hook” Matthews was born September 27, 1919, in Ft. Worth, Texas, to Jim and Dora Matthews and died February 26, 2013, at the Tally House Care Unit at Baptist Memorials surrounded by loving family and caregivers. He was preceded in death by sisters Gracie Foster, Euta Homer, Frankie Brooks and Oma Lee Klein, and brothers Chester, Jack and W.F.’s twin brother, J.F.
Family visitation was held Friday March 1, 2013, at Johnson’s Funeral Chapel, in San Angelo.
A celebration of W.F.’s life was held Saturday, March 2, 2013, at Harris Avenue Baptist Church at 1026 East Harris in San Angelo, Texas. The was officiated by Randy Bush, Travis Monday and Robert Webb. Burial followed at Lawnhaven Memorial Cemetery.
W.F. spent his early childhood in Eastland County near the Nimrod Community. The family then moved to the Best Community in Reagan County where his father was a rig builder. He attended school in Big Lake. He moved back to Shep, Texas, in southern Taylor County in 1938 where he went to work for Taylor County as a machinery operator. W.F. joined the Texas National Guard in 1940, and his guard unit was activated in September 1940 when his unit became part of the 36th Division. W.F. was a proud member of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, E Battery. His unit shipped out from Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas on November 10, 1941. They then made their way by train to Angel Island, California, and boarded the USS Republic to head west. They arrived in Pearl Harbor on Sunday, November 30, 1941 (one week before Pearl Harbor was bombed) and spent one night in port before departing for the Philippines on December 1, 1941. While at sea, they received word that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and the United States was at war. The Republic was diverted to Brisbane, Australia, where they camped at the polo grounds and remained awaiting orders for about three weeks. The unit was ordered to Java in the Dutch East Indies in early January and arrived without much of their equipment. They fought valiantly for several weeks only to be taken prisoner on March 8, 1942, by the Japanese Army and Navy. W.F. was injured during the battle for Java. He spent the remainder of the war moving from POW camp to POW camp throughout Southeast Asia working as slave labor for the Japanese war machine. For a time, he worked on the infamous “Death Railway” in Burma and Thailand. The 131st Field Artillery was not heard from until the end of war and became famously known as “The Lost Battalion”. These dark days shaped his outlook and attitude for the rest of his life. The bonds of friendship formed by the “Lost Battalion” brothers have remained strong for over 70 years.
After liberation, W.F. returned to Shep where he met, courted and married Gladys Faye Wheat of Wingate, Texas, on December 12, 1946. They farmed in Runnels County for several years until W.F. and Gladys moved to Midland, Texas. He went to work for the Texas Highway Department, and they were blessed with the birth of Randy in 1955. W.F. then moved his family to San Angelo in 1956 where son, Tommy, was born in 1957. W.F. continued to work for the Texas Highway Department for over 30 years, retiring in 1980. He was very proud of the hand he played in building roads and bridges throughout West Texas and could tell countless stories about all the road jobs he worked on. After retirement, W.F. remained active spending many hours volunteering at Harris Avenue Baptist Church and Kindergarten, building and repairing furniture and toys. He enjoyed drinking coffee in the mornings with his buddies at the Dun-Bar Restaurant.
W.F. was an active member of Harris Avenue Baptist Church for over 56 years, serving as a Deacon and Sunday School Superintendent as well as many other leadership positions. He was a Master Mason for over 60 years and was a member of the York Rite Bodies. He served as President and was a member of both the Concho Valley Ex-POW Association and the American Ex-POW Association. W.F. was proudest about being a member of the “Lost Battalion Association” which was made up of the survivors of the 36th Division, 131st Field Artillery and the U.S.S. Houston.
W.F. is survived by his wife of 66 years, Gladys, sons and daughters-in-law Randy and Kathy, and Tommy and Christi of San Angelo; grandsons Justin of Kansas City, Missourri, Mason and fiance Brenna Sayles, Brian and wife Tara, Mickey and wife Kayla, Bradley and girlfriend Stephanie Carter, and Dillon all of San Angelo; great-grandsons, Rian and Oakley of San Angelo. Brothers-in-law and wives, Arley and Joy Wheat of San Angelo, and Gene and Jeanie Wheat of Winters, Texas as well as many nephews and nieces and cousins.
Grandsons served as pallbearers. Honorary pallbearers were the surviving members of the “Lost Battalion” and the members of the “Lost Battalion Next Generation”.
The family would like to express their heart-felt gratitude to the wonderful care-givers at the Talley House at Baptist Memorials as well as San Angelo Community Medical Center 3-South for the wonderful, dignified, and loving care they gave W.F.
Instead of flowers, the family has requested to send donations to Meals for the Elderly, The Wounded Warrior Project, or your favorite charity.