To the Editor,
My name is Karen Maida Mathiowetz and I live in Italy, Texas. I am a U.S. Veteran. My dad, Michael Maida, was born on May 23, 1920, in Catanzaro, Italy. His father came to America to try to attain the American Dream.
Michael’s mom brought him to America a few months later. He had his first birthday on the ship coming to America. It was the last ship allowed to enter Ellis Island under open immigration.
The Maida family settled in Syracuse, New York. Daddy dropped out of school during the depression and went to work in a C.C.C. Camp in Washington state with the forestry service.
On October 11, 1940, he joined the U.S. Marine Corp and did his basic training at Paris Island, South Carolina. Being a Marine was what he had always wanted to be and he was living his American dream. In 1941, he shipped out to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, most of his military action was in the South Pacific.
He and his men landed on the small island of Tiday. My dad had a knack for picking up languages very easily. He heard the natives talking about the great-great-grandson of one of their dead kings that left the island several years before. Because he had learned their language, he told them he was that grandson.
They brought he and his men white horses with jeweled saddles and Daddy was given the honor of sleep on the king’s bed. He and his men were treated like royalty. Growing up I always thought this story to be a tall tale, but I found out it was true because of newspaper articles about “King Mike.“ There is also a comic strip about “King Mike.”
All this glory came to an end at Cape Gloucester, Papua New Guinea. The Battle of Hill 660 was one of WWII bloodiest battles. Daddy was wounded by machine gun fire when he took 5 hits to the temple. Only by the grace of God did he survive his injuries. Those wounds required over 30 surgeries. After the war, there were pieces of shrapnel that would work out through his gums that they could not remove with surgery.
Michael Maida received the purple heart for wounds he sustained. He also was awarded the First Marine Division Presidential Unit Citation for outstanding gallantry and determination in successfully executing forced landing assaults on a number of strongly defended Japanese position on Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, Floriday, Guadalcanal and British Solomon Islands. In addition to other medals, he was also awarded the Silver Star for bravery.
When he was injured and treated in a field hospital, he was transferred to the hospital at Camp Pendleton in California. While in the hospital, he met Clara McGuire, a beautiful Navy nurse, from Italy, Texas. They fell in love and married. Their wedding was unusual and was written about in the newspaper because it was believed to be the first enlisted wedding where the Marine Honor Guard made an arc of rifles for them to walk through. This honor was always reserved for officers only.
After Mike and Clara were discharged from the military, they moved to Syracuse, New York and then finally to Italy, Texas. Daddy lived with the memory of the war and the emotional and physical pain and scars all the days of his life. He passed away on January 1, 2002, at the VA Hospital in Dallas.
One of the most ironic things about all this is that through his entire military career and afterward, he was not a U.S. Citizen. When I entered the Air Force in July of 1972, in order to receive a security clearance, I was required to furnish the citizenship info on my dad and grandparents.
My grandparents had received naturalization numbers but my dad had not. So in 1972, he applied for citizenship It was finally granted on September 6, 1979. That day was one of the proudest moments of his life.
My dad was a humble hero. He did not talk about his service very often and he never talked about heroic actions. I remember one day when I was in grade school, two of his Marine buddies came for a visit.
I remember being afraid because of the way they looked. Smitty wore a toboggan to try to cover the wounds on his head left from the war. Scotty could not cover his wounds because they were too extensive. He had been burned badly on his face, arms and hands.
I sat on the ground outside by their chairs and listened for what seemed like hours as they related memories, sometimes laughing and sometimes crying. They both told me the only reason they made it out alive at Hill 660 was because of King Mike and his bravery and leadership. I did not even know what Hill 660 was and how Daddy had been wounded.
They also said that their commander had intended to put Daddy in for the Congressional Medal of Honor, but the commander died in battle before he could do that. I didn’t understand at that time how important this info would be to me now.
My dad was a true hero in every sense of the word. He always said if they needed him to serve he would do it again in a heartbeat. My parents loved America and what she stands for. They also loved the flag and taught their my two sisters and me to respect what it stands for. They taught us to respect every military member and every veteran because they have earned it.
When I graduated from basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio my parents were there. My dad was so proud that day and I don’t know who cried more, me or him.
I am proud to be from a family where sacrifice was commonplace and love of our country was evident. During WWII, not only did my mother serve, her four brothers all served at the same time. Veterans Day was always a very special day in our house for good reason. Today I carry on that tradition in my home.
Karen Maida Mathiowetz, Italy, U.S Air Force retired