Happy 104th birthday!
Oldest living submariner is joined by local residents at celebration
Bob Jaques, Special to the Enquirer
Saturday, Feb. 4, was a special day for Floyd “Skipper” Matthews of Florence, as he celebrated his 104th birthday with family and well-wishers. I was proud to be included with the well-wishers.
Matthews is not only the oldest living U.S. Navy submariner in the country, but he is also the oldest living veteran in Alabama.
Matthews started his Navy career as a seaman in May of 1919. He is considered a WW I veteran because the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended WW I was signed a month later on June 28, 1919. Matthews completed submarine school, and during his Navy career, served aboard seven different submarines.
During WW II he served on the surface ship USS DIVER, which arrived at Omaha and Utah beaches the day after the Normandy Invasion in 1944. From 1945 until his retirement in 1949, he commanded the surface ship USS CHICKASAW, where he earned his nickname “Skipper”. Matthews retired from the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander on May 21, 1949 after 30 years of service.
How did I learn about Matthews’ birthday? My son Jon, who is a submarine veteran and the Treasurer of the Submarine Veterans Association, sent me an e-mail in January telling about Matthews’ 104th birthday. Since he was planning on attending with several submarine friends from Murfreesboro, Tenn., I decided to go.
Matthews currently lives in an assisted living facility in Florence. The reception was scheduled from 2-4 p.m. in the facility’s kitchen area.
I arrived about a half-hour early and was met by Matthew’s two sons and two daughters. I met and chatted briefly with the 104 year old honoree prior to the scheduled time. His speech was slow and deliberate but he seemed to enjoy the attention. He had a natural and friendly smile.
Jon and his contingent arrived and we joined the approximately 50 to 60 people who came to recognize Matthews.
Matthews sat behind a table with a beautiful cake and three large numeral candles that spelled out 104. He blew them out easily and then smiled at everyone taking pictures. Afterwards, Matthews was presented with several letters and awards from dignitaries. He received a personal birthday letter from President George Bush; an official Commendation from Governor Bob Riley; a plaque from the Submarine Veterans Association; and an official plaque from the U.S. Navy recognizing him as the “…….Senior Submariner in the U.S. Navy”.
When the festivities were about over, Matthews expressed his appreciation to those who came and for the recognition he received. He said, “I am sure grateful for your being here today…..Shipmates is the best word you can use”.
As I headed for home, I wondered what it is like to be 104. Oh well, in about 37 years I’ll find out.