by Robert A. Waters
On March 12, 1943, World War II showed no signs of ending. The headline in The Ogden Standard Examiner screamed: “Reds Take Vyazma, Nazis Kharkov; British Destroy 21 Rommel Tanks; Yankees Bomb Jap Bases at Kiska.” It would be two more long years before the conflict bled to a stop.
Underneath that huge headline, a smaller one, almost an afterthought, read: “Officers Seek Man’s Identity.” Then came the poignant story of a forgotten soldier from what seemed at the time to be a distant memory—the “war to end all wars.”
The United Press story read: “Colorado officers today were taking fingerprints to establish definitely the identity of a wandering ‘hermit’ believed to be Donald Matheson of Beaver, Utah in the hope of clearing up a 20 year-old mystery. The hermit, who said his name was Donald Matheson, 51, was taken into custody yesterday by Trinidad, Colo., police because they feared he might die of exposure.
“He had a long flowing beard and hair, was shabbily dressed, and officers discovered he had been living in the open—sleeping wherever he could find a rude shelter, in crevices, abandoned shacks and under bridges.
“Utah relatives reported [that] the Donald Matheson from Beaver was drafted into the army in 1918, and was later reported wounded in action. This was the last heard of him until the Trinidad man said he was the long-missing Matheson.
“During the years since her son disappeared, Mrs. Caroline Matheson, mother of the missing soldier, died. His sister, Mrs. Jean Hickman said scars reported on the Trinidad hermit’s face corresponded with scars her brother carried when he entered the army. A cousin, Scott M. Matheson, assistant U. S. district attorney, was helping the attempts to clear the mystery.” Relatives informed Sheriff Marty that they believed Donald Matheson had been killed in World War I.
The hermit, as newspapers called him, had recently wandered into the Aguilar district, living on handouts from concerned residents.
County Judge William T. Eckhart interviewed Matheson, who said he had served in the U. S. Army until 1919. After being honorably discharged, he told lawmen that he had wandered the Arizona and California deserts for years before coming to Colorado. Judge Eckhart asked Matheson why he didn’t go home after the war, and he replied, “I had nothing to go home for.”
Eckhart contacted Beaver County authorities and learned that the Matheson family had moved away many years before.
Matheson seemed surprised when told that the U. S. was fighting yet another world war. He informed Eckhart that he never fought on the front lines in France but had been stationed at St. Nazaire.
After his uncle retrieved his military records, Donald Matheson was transferred to the veterans’ hospital in Fort Lyons, Colorado.
By the time World War II ended, Donald Matheson and his sad story had faded into the annals of history.
NOTE: If anyone has additional information about Donald Matheson, I’ll be glad to publish it. Too much is unknown about his story.