Retired Army Chief Warrant Officer Mathew Suddath expected a small party for his 90th birthday, but his family surprised him by inviting soldiers to participate in a ceremony to honor his military service. The celebration was held Saturday at Magnolia Manor in Richmond Hill.
“He’s had a lifetime in the military — 31 years,” David Suddath of Rincon said of his father. “It’s really a big deal to see him light up … [due to] the appreciation and outpouring of love, especially from the military.”
According to a biography provided to party attendees, Suddath was born in Statesboro and served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He retired in 1975 while stationed at Fort Devens, Georgia. Suddath served in the Marshall Islands during WWII, was with the 5th Regimental Combat Team in Korea, and was a maintenance officer for an electronic warfare battalion in Vietnam.
On display at the celebration were Suddath’s military awards, including a Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal. Suddath said he continues his involvement with the military through organizations such as the VFW, American Legion and Retired Officers Association, among others.
“I have a surge of pride whenever I put my uniform on,” Suddath said. “I wear it every opportunity I can get. I am proud of my service, I’m proud of my country and I’m proud of the uniform itself. I think it’s an elegant uniform. I think its one of the best our nation has and I’m very proud of it, and I take every opportunity I have to show it off.”
Army Reserve Ambassador Luis Carreras helped coordinate the event and expressed appreciation for Suddath and others who’ve made similar sacrifices.
“We should be grateful we have men like him,” Carreras said. “He is a part of the the Greatest Generation. These folks came out of the Depression and Dust Bowl. I’ve met some guys who, when they joined the Army, they received their first pair of shoes.”
Suddath made the choice to serve his nation early on, simply because it felt like the right thing to do.
“I was 17 years old when World War II was going on, and I thought I ought to go,” he said. “I enjoyed the service. I liked being in the service. I was a Depression child, never used to having anything. When I got in the service, I had three hots and a flop every day, and I stayed in. In World War II, remember I was a teenager, and teenagers you know, they’re bullet-proof. There’s no problem with it — they can do anything, so I was one of those guys. But as I got older, by the time I was 43 years old in Vietnam, things were a little bit different.”
Hunter Army Airfield Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Clarence Bowman III spoke briefly before Suddath was presented with commemorative pins honoring his service in three wars. Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Gregory also attended, along with an estimated 40 service members who voluntarily used their weekend time to support Suddath and thank him in person, Carreras said.
Suddath cut his birthday cake and greeted visitors as violinists played “Happy Birthday” and “My Country Tis of Thee.” Later, Rich Delong, a family friend, sang old songs from the 1930s and ’40s.
Suddath’s wife, Nancy, died in 1989, according to Suddath’s daughter-in-law, Mary Suddath.
“They met in Hawaii. She was a military wife and traveled all over with him. They were married at least 35 years. The thing I loved about her was she never had a favorite. She had four daughters-in-law and she treated us all the same, with a lot of love. She really valued what each of us brought to the family. She was the best mother in law anyone could ever have,” Mary Suddath said.
Suddath has four sons and one daughter, 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Three of Suddath’s sons and several extended family members attended Sunday’s celebration; however, his son who lives in California and his daughter who lives in England were unable to attend. Suddath has lived at Magnolia Manor for seven years and considers it his home.
“We love Magnolia Manor,” said Mary Suddath, adding that the facility always allows families to use community space for parties. In helping to organize the party and honor ceremony, she said she was inspired by the movie “White Christmas,” during which soldiers surprised their retired general with a party and honor ceremony for his birthday.
The guest of honor expressed gratitude for those who visited with him Sunday and wished him a happy birthday.
“I thank all of you people for being here today,” Suddath said. “The soldiers looked great. They represented themselves very well. I enjoyed it. I was quite surprised at the turn out. I was honored by having it.”