Brothers Vernon Meferd Matney and Claudie A. Matney were on ships at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Vernon died on the battleship U.S.S. Arizona when Japan attacked the United States fleet that Sunday morning. Claudie was nearby on the U.S.S. Worden, a destroyer that escaped damage.
Their parents, Claude and Bertie, in rural Cottle County, Texas, were not officially notified by the government of Vernon’s death until early February 1942, but a letter from Claudie confirmed their fears.
Claudie made no direct mention of his younger brother’s death in the Jan. 2 letter, which was reviewed by a Navy censor. Instead, he wrote: “Tell Mildred (their sister) she can name her last boy Vernon after Buddy.” The coded reference “was the only way he had to tell us that Vernon was dead and he knew,” the family wrote in a note published in the local newspaper, the Paducah Post.
Two weeks later Claudie wrote a second letter printed in the paper. “I will try to write you a few lines to let you know that I am o.k. There hasn’t anything happened yet. I suppose I am pretty lucky.”
He asks about the cotton harvest and mentions that he is using a typewriter for the first time. “I think I will get a typewriter after the war is over and learn to type.” He tells his folks to make sure Mildred takes care of his nephews. “At least until I get a chance to see them, which I am sure I will some day. I don’t know when that will be. At least I hope so.
“Mother, you will be getting another insurance policy. I took out $7,000 more. It is made out to you. That makes $10,000 I have now. That ought to be enough on a guy like me. That is about all I am worth. They have got to pay when they get me. But I hope that they don’t get me.
“Well, I have written about all I know, so will sign off for this time. So be good and answer real soon. Tell all the news at home and about all of the young people at home.”
The brothers left northwest Texas in 1939. It was a tough decade in Cottle County, a farm and ranch area that lost 25 percent of its population, down to 7,079 by 1940. Their father, an Army private in World War I, farmed there.
Vernon, born Jan. 6, 1921, in Coleman, Oklahoma, graduated in 1939 from Valley View High School near Paducah. He enlisted in the Navy on Sept. 15 and was a fireman first class when he died. Claudie, two years older, enlisted on Nov. 16.
Most of his war service was aboard destroyers -- the Worden and then the Trathen. The latter earned eight battle stars.
The Paducah Post published one other war letter from Claudie, written while the Trathen was at Pearl Harbor for three weeks in January 1944.
“I got about six letters from you on the first of January and the packages. You shouldn’t have sent many things like that. I can always buy them cheaper than you can. They are very nice. The pecans were fine. They were the first I have had since I have been in the navy. Tell Dad thanks a million.
“Well, I guess you know what this day is? Bud’s birthday. He would have been 23.
“How is everybody at home by now? The years are sure rolling by. It won’t be long before my time is up and I sure hope the war is over by then, because I will be headed back to Texas. Maybe I could get back at least by Christmas in 1945.”
Claudie Matney ended his Navy service as a chief water tender on Nov. 24, 1945. He died in 1989 and is buried at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Paducah, where his parents are also buried and where there is a cenotaph in Vernon’s memory.
Sources: The Paducah (Texas) Post; grave markers; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs death file; Navy muster rolls; Census.