JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
More than 70 years after they died fighting for their country, the remains of two World War II service members were laid to rest during separate services at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in early November.
Funeral services were held for 2nd Lt. Toney Gochnauer Nov. 4 and 2nd Lt. Ernest Matthews Jr. Nov. 5.
Gochnauer, 24, of Amarillo, Texas, was a U.S. Army Air Forces pilot who served with the 425th Bombardment Squadron, 308th Heavy Bombardment Group, 14th Air Force, stationed in Kunming, China. He died Jan. 25, 1944, when the B-24J Liberator aircraft he was the co-pilot of disappeared and never arrived at its destination during a supply mission from Kunming, China to Chabua, India, on the dangerous route through the Himalayas known as “The Hump.”
The aircraft was presumed to have crashed in adverse weather conditions and since the location of the crash was never found, none of the eight crewmembers, including Gochnauer, and four passengers on board were recovered.
His remains were recovered in 2017 when the crash site of the B-24J Liberator he was in was found and were accounted for in May of this year.
Gochnauer is survived by his son, retired Army Col. Toney Baskin, and his wife, Melody, and two grandsons.
After several years of waiting, Baskin said he and his family are grateful that his father’s remains have been brought home to be laid to rest.
“We were thankful to God this had occurred and that he had brought him home,” Baskin said.
Baskin said he never got to know his father because Gochnauer died a month before he was born.
“I didn’t know a lot about him other than what I pieced together over the years,” he said. “He was a young man who went to war before I was born. He was flying difficult missions and he lost his life.”
Baskin served for 34 years in the Army and that his father’s service inspired him to join the military.
Baskin said he plans to put on his father’s headstone the words: “He is the greatest man we never knew.”
Chaplain (Capt.) Patrick Cobb of the Medical Professional Training Brigade at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, delivered the eulogy at Gochnauer’s service.
“He responded to his call to be an officer and go and fight for his country and defend what then was a huge enemy, and he defended his country with his life,” Cobb said. “And he spent a time lost, but he was found. And now he has come home. He’s come home as a father, as a son, as a brother, as a husband, as a Soldier, as a hero.”
Matthews, 34, served in the Marines in Headquarters Company, Headquarters Battalion, Division Special Troops of the 2nd Marine Division. He was killed in combat Nov. 20, 1943, fighting Japanese forces during the Battle of Tarawa on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific.
He, along with other servicemembers who died in the battle, were buried in battlefield cemeteries on Betio Island. His remains were recovered in 2015, among the remains of 35 Marines who fought in the Battle of Tarawa, when the burial site was discovered by a private MIA research and recovery group. Matthews’ remains were then turned over to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, who were able to identify the remains as his.
Chaplain (Lt.) Andi Ingram of the 4th Reconnaissance Marine Division at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, said Matthews fought and died in one of the fiercest battles during World War II.
“Ernest served with honor, he served with courage and he served with commitment in a time of war,” Ingram said. “A time when putting on the uniform would very well have meant that you were not going to make it home.
“True to his Marine Corps values, Ernest did not stay back and send his men into battle,” Ingram added. “He went in with them. They stood shoulder to shoulder believing in the freedom they were fighting for. Freedom for his wife, the freedom for his family, for his friends and the people he would never even meet.”
Surviving family members who attended Matthews’ service were his niece, Julie Matthews and her husband, Tim, of Bloomington, Indiana; and his cousin, Jerry Jones and his wife, Pam, from Houston.
Julie Matthews said her uncle died 22 years before she was born. Ernest Matthews was the older brother of her father, Charles, who was a retired Army colonel.
Matthews said the memories she has of her uncle growing up were seeing photos of him and of the times the family spoke about him
Matthews said she is glad that her uncle’s remains will be interred next to his wife, Mary Virginia Matthews, a nurse during World War II, who passed away in 1969.
By attending her uncle’s service, Matthews said she got a greater appreciation of the sacrifice her uncle made to his country.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “It really brings it home. My father served in the military but he retired by the time I came along, so I think I was a bit removed from his military involvement. I think this makes it more real and certainly a great appreciation of what all the military does for us.”