F1c Vernon Merferd Matney

Unknown Sailor

F1c Vernon Merferd Matney

Brothers Vernon Merferd 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 a little over a half mile north on the U.S.S. Worden, a destroyer that escaped damage.

Their parents, Claude Harrison and Bertie Millican Matney of Delwin in rural Cottle County, Texas 130 miles southeast of Amarillo, 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 asked about the cotton harvest and mentioned that he was using a typewriter for the first time. “I think I will get a typewriter after the war is over and learn to type.” He told his folks to make sure Mildred took 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 had left north Texas in 1939. It was a tough decade for the farmers and ranchers in Cottle County, which lost 25 percent of its population from 1930 to 1940, dropping to 7,079 residents. 

Their father, an Army private in World War I, farmed 10 miles to the southeast of Paducah, the county seat.

Vernon, born Jan. 6, 1921 in Coleman, Oklahoma roughly 240 miles east, 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 Claudie’s war service was aboard destroyers — the Worden and then the Trathen, which 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. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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