WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Retired) H. Spencer Matthews Jr., 81, died Sept. 24, 2002.
He was the first Naval Aviation Pilot to be promoted to flag rank in the Navy. Born May 5, 1921, in Clarksville, Ark., following two years in the Civilian Conservation Corps, he enlisted in the Navy on April 16, 1940. After boot camp training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois, he was transferred to the Navy's fighter training Squadron Five at Saufley Field in Pensacola, Fla.
In October 1940, he and his squadron were transferred to Miami, Fla., where they opened Naval Air Station Opa Locka. Having won a state high school typing contest (120 on a manual typewriter) he served as a yeoman striker until just before Pearl Harbor, when he became an aviation mechanics mate. His greatest promotion in his 33 years of naval service was when he sewed on that "crow" as AMM3c in August 1941.
In November 1942, Matthews commenced enlisted flight training in the 12th Battalion at the University of Georgia. He graduated number one in his class at the university of more than 500 aviation cadets and about 40 enlisted pilot trainees. He received his wings of gold as a naval aviation pilot on Aug. 15, 1942, and two weeks later, he was promoted to ensign. He completed operational training in the PBY-1 and the PB4Y-1 (Navy version of the B-24). In operational training, he received a Navy Commendation for being the first student to complete the celestial navigation courses with the perfect grade of 4.0.
After the end of the war in Europe, Matthews became a test pilot at the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River, Md. While there, he became Naval Jet Aviator number 100. He was a graduate of the first test pilot class at Patuxent River in 1947. Following a tour in VP-5, flying PV-2s and P2V-1s, he attended Tulane University in New Orleans. During his 22 months (six semesters) he received his bachelor of science degree, Phi Beta Kappa and was awarded the Annual Glendy Burke Award as the most outstanding student in the field of mathematics, which was his major. In 1951-52 he attended the Naval Postgraduate School, General Line Course where he graduated first in his class of 505 naval officers. Matthews attended the Naval War College for one year in 1957-58 and, in 1965, spent a summer at Oxford University in England.
Matthews flew 50 combat missions in Europe in the PB46-1, was the assistant air boss on a CVW Salerno Bay during Korea and served five combat tours in the Vietnam War (three aboard carriers on Yankee Station in the South China Sea, one as the commanding officer of an amphibious ship and one in country as rear admiral as the deputy commander of U.S. Navy Forces Vietnam and as the vice chief of the Vietnamese Navy).
In 1953, the Admiral transferred from patrol planes to carrier aircraft. As the executive officer, he commissioned VA-76, 1955, in Air Task Group (Wing) 202. IN 1955 and 1956, he was "Top Gun" at the Fleet Air Gunnery Unit in El Centro, Calif. His squadron, VA-76, was in Air Group One on the first deployment of the Navy's first "Supercarrier," the USS Forrestall (CVA-59).
During his Naval service, Matthews commanded Attack Squadron 113, flying A4d-2s (1957-58), Carrier Air Group Two aboard the USS Midway (CVA-41); USS Hermitage (LSD-34); USS Independence (CVA-62); and as a rear admiral for the Naval Aviation Basic Training Command at Pensacola, Fla. As the deputy commander of Naval Forces in Vietnam and vice chief of the Vietnamese Navy, he commanded all U.S. Navy and Vietnamese Riverine forces in the "brown water navy" in Vietnam.
From Vietnam, he was transferred to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, where he became the first head of the Aviation Training Divisions and Aircraft Carrier Division. He was responsible for the major introduction of Flight Simulators into training commands and the fleet. Matthews retired from the Navy in August 1973, after more than 33 years of Naval service.
During his 33 years in service, the Admiral, while enlisted, was a plane captain on the O3U-1, F4B-4, F2F and F3F, F2A, BTD, BT2D, TBC, NJ-1 and SBC- 3 and 4. As a naval aviator he flew the N2S, SNV, SNJ, PSY, PBY-1, PB4Y and 2, Spitfire (England), F8F-1, BT2D-1, YP-59A (1st Navy jet), AD, F2H (Banshee), F9F-8, FJ-4B, F4H-1 Phantom, A4D, and his last carrier landing was in the F4H-1 Phantom at night aboard USS Midway in Wespac in 1963.
His 36 medals and awards include the Distinguished Service Medial (five), the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star (five), Air Medals, both the JCS and Navy Commendation Medals and 12 Foreign Medals, including the highest awards given by South Vietnam and Cambodia. The Admiral almost avoided being in an aircraft accident during his service, but not quite. His Army command helicopter (warrant officer pilot) crashed into the Mekong River in Vietnam when the engine failed on takeoff from one of his fire bases in the Delta of Vietnam.
After leaving the Navy in 1973, the Admiral ran a congressional office (offices in D.C. and Florida) until 1979. He was a consultant to Martin Marietta Corporation from 1979 to 1991. Matthews was the president of four small companies which he founded in Washington, D.C., Florida and Louisiana; and served on the Board of Directors of two corporations, the Naval Mutual Aid Association and was a trustee on the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation. He also served on the boards of four charitable foundations.
The Admiral lived in Falls Church, Va.
He is survived by his wife, Diane Ford Matthews; three daughters and sons-in-law, Kathryn and Graham Lovering of Cornwall, England, Patricia and James R. Miller of Annapolis, Md., and Anne and Marios Karpis of Atlanta, Ga.; a stepdaughter and her husband, Allison Ford and Michael Spagna of New Haven, Conn.; six grandsons, Calvin Matthews, Jonathan Matthews, James Russell Miller, Aaron Davies, Christos Matthew Karpis and Alexander Spencer Karpis; and four sisters, Lynn Dempster, Alice Gardner, Jo Marie Sikes and Juanita Edwards, all of Sikeston, Mo.
Memorial services will be held with full military honors at 1 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Fort Myer Chapel in Arlington, Va.
Inurnment will follow at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be made to the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation, Athletic and Scholarship, 25 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, Md. 21401