My Father Leaves for War
My father, Lloyd Mathews, was a land surveyor, newspaper columnist, and veteran of WWII. He ceded to me my love of history, and when he died in February 2015 at the age of 91, he left me bins of writings. He left behind autobiographical musings about his life growing up in Lynchburg, Waynesboro, and South Hill, Virginia, and he left full articles about the early days of Methodism in Virginia’s New River Valley. He wrote about steam railroading and about the people he’d met. He left me mounds of his “Looking Back with Lloyd Mathews” historical columns that ran for 35 years in our local Pulaski, Virginia, newspaper–The Southwest Times.
In a 1980 column my father reflected on the loss of Pulaski’s Maple Shade Inn, a 19th century resort hotel that had been razed in the 1960s. He had loved the Inn, and in that 1980 column he remembers my hometown as it was the day he left for war. My father wrote:
“The Maple Shade Inn played a very important part in my past, because it was from the long vine-covered front porch of this place that I stood on February 17, 1943, and looked out over the town that I had so recently chosen as the spot on this earth where I hoped to spend my life. Off to the right, and a half block away, the buses of the old City Cab Company were already warming up their motors for their trip to deliver workers to the New River Ordinance Works for the midnight shift….
“The Norfolk and Western Railroad signals wigwagged, and lights flashed to signal the coming of a passenger train approaching from West Commerce. The whistle made a mournful sound….
“Standing there on that cold winter night, my ears were treated to one last concert that went with me halfway around the world, and many nights on those South Pacific Islands I closed my eyes and found peaceful sleep by reaching deep into my ears to hear a replay of the old Pulaski County Courthouse clock as it peeled out ten beautiful deliberate songs….
“I didn’t have to search for reasons to want to come home after World War II, but one of the things that caused me to have a little added incentive was that lively block of history … known as the Maple Shade Inn.”
My father was a gentle man. He was also a Marine, who fought on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. My father lived through the war hearing deep in his ears the place he wanted to return to. His writing tells me something I already know, that place is crucial to who we are and what we believe in.
We are Virginia. We are America.
Editor’s note: Want to join the 2019 Commemoration in saluting women in the military? Join us for the Virginia International Tattoo on April 25th, 2019.