By Byron Shehee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY, AL — Seven decades after dying as an Army Air Force pilot during World War II, the body of Maj. Peyton S. Mathis Jr. returned to his native Montgomery for burial with full military honors on Jan. 3, 2015.
On June 5, 1944, Mathis piloted a P-38J Lightning for the 44th Fighter Squadron when he crashed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Mathis was 28 when his plane was lost.
Fellow airmen said Mathis was circling the Kukum Airfield with engine trouble until the rest of his crew safely returned from their mission.
According to reports, the military knew where his plane went down but could not reach the fallen hero due to the dense jungle and unnavigable swamps. The military declared his body unrecoverable in 1949, and it was not until 2013 that someone found his body at the crash site and contacted the U.S. Department of Defense.
Mathis graduated from Sidney Lanier High School, received his chemical engineering degree from Vanderbilt University and played football for the Commodores before leaving for war.
Congresswoman Roby said this of Mathis, “Like so many in his generation, Major Peyton Mathis, Jr. made the ultimate sacrifice fighting to defend this country and preserve the very freedom we enjoy today. This week, he will be laid to rest with the full military honors he deserves. I hope his story will serve as a reminder of the sacrifices our military personnel and their families have made over the years, and still make today.”
Mathis was a true hero. He was the recipient of both the Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star for his service in North Africa and Europe during World War II before giving his life for the safety of those under his command in the Pacific.
Mathis is survived by his widow Evelyn; half-nephews and half-nieces Peyton Mathis III, Warner L. Mathis, Jr., Marcia Mathis McCabe, and Hazel Mims Mathis; and first cousin Laurette Cravey Kimbrough.