Marion Matherne doesn’t claim to be a World War II hero. As far as he knows, no one in his family earned that individual distinction.
As a group, however, the Matherne siblings were remarkable.
Matherne, a Baton Rouge resident for almost 60 years, said he and six of his brothers served in the American military during World War II. Seven siblings serving wasn’t a record — one Texas family claimed nine — but it was a real rarity.
Richard, Kelsey, Louis and Glenn were in the Army or Army Air Force. Marion, Harold and Jourdan served in the Navy. One brother, Herman, had disqualifying eyesight and health issues. The oldest brother, Stanley, was rejected because he was too old, Marion Matherne said.
“He was chomping at the bit,” Marion Matherne said of Stanley. “He was a year or two too old for the draft. If the war had lasted a little big longer, they were going to elevate the draft age. … He wanted to get in a tank. We would have had eight.”
Marion Matherne, 93, grew up at Whitney Plantation in St. John the Baptist Parish, where his father worked. He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 when he was 19.
“The Army didn’t want me because I was underweight,” he said. “I think I was something like 98 pounds … and the understanding was you had to be 110 or something before the Army would consider you. So, rather than being declared 4-F, I decided to check with the Navy, and the Navy said, ‘Yeah, come on in.’ I went on in, and my other two brothers … they followed me into the Navy.”
Marion Matherne doesn’t recall the details, but said Harold was stationed in Hawaii, while Jourdan served on an aircraft carrier.
Richard, who joined the Army through ROTC at LSU, was in the Signal Corps in China throughout the war.
“He never really filled us in, but it was some kind of secret operation,” Marion Matherne said. “After the war, he had to fly back over the Himalayas, which was a difficult thing to do back then. Then, he got called back into the Vietnam War, and he never told us anything about that. … He was a dedicated service person.”
Louis served in the Army in Europe and broke a leg jumping out of a truck, Marion Matherne said. Glenn flew DC-3 supply planes in the South Pacific. Kelsey was already in the Army Air Force when the war broke out and served stateside training other airmen.
Marion Matherne also stayed in the country and was in electronics training school in California when the war ended. After the war, he earned a degree in electrical engineering at LSU and worked at and started industrial and technical businesses. He still works at his business, Matherne Family Properties.
The youngest in his family, which included two sisters, he is the only one of his siblings still living. But none of the blue stars that designated a family’s service members ever turned gold during the war.
“We all returned, all seven of us,” he said.