DARLINGTON – It has been 48 years since Dennis Matteson was injured in the Vietnam War. Not only did he get injured once but after three months in the hospital, he was sent back into combat and was injured a few weeks later.
“This isn’t about me; without those people that got me up off that jungle floor, I wouldn’t be here. It is about the people that had to stay there and fight. They had to carry on and keep up the fight and never got a break,” Matteson explained.
He was drafted into the army in 1967 at the age of 20. He was apart of the 101st Airborne Division and was sent to Vietnam in 1968. Matteson was in Vietnam right after the Tet Offensive and was assigned to demolition and recoilless rifles. He was placed into an infantry unit and was appointed point man, which is a very dangerous position, as the solider is the first and most exposed position in a military formation.
His first injury came in July of 1969 near Phu Bai Combat Base south of Hue in central Vietnam. He was flown to Japan to recover for three months. After he was better, he was placed back in the same platoon in the same position as point man. Then in November he was wounded again and sent to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam to recover before, once again being sent back into battle.
Matteson received his purple hearts in the hospital when he was recovering but the information about the purple hearts never got into his army records.
“All these years I thought my records showed the first time I got the Purple Heart but it only showed the second time,” Matteson said.
His wife and mother encouraged him to speak with Dave Weiskircher, who was the Veteran’s Service Officer for Lafayette County at the time. Weiskircher’s request was first denied because Matteson did not have official army documentation but instead had a telegram and a newspaper clipping. When Sam Fuller, the new Veteran’s Service Officer, started he had the army search through military orders and when that didn’t work, they looked through Matteson’s medical records which then showed both of his injuries.
Congressman Mark Pocan helped Matteson and Fuller expedite the new information and moved Matteson to the top of the list and within 10 days of Pocan’s help, Matteson was officially accredited with a second purple heart.
“We had been working on this for two years and in 10 days, he was able to get it,” Matteson stated.
At an official ceremony, Pocan presented Matteson with his purple heart with oak leaf clusters along with a Vietnam Campaign medal with two service stars and a Good Conduct Medal.
“I am the guy standing up here getting this but this is for all those people that helped me. They had to provide cover for me and the other guys that got wounded. It was an honor to serve our country,” Matteson said.