THE GOOD FIGHT OF MAJ. GENERAL WILLIAM MATZ
The young Rifle Company Commander knew immediately he’d been shot; the searing pain ripping through his arm like a thunderbolt. The deafening cacophony of gunfire and grenades made it difficult to focus, but he had a job to do, and as long as he drew breath, he was going to see that job through.
Ignoring his injury and the withering fusillade of Viet Cong small arms and mortar fire that had his unit pinned down and fighting furiously to maintain their position, Captain William Matz ’73 (MA) continued to drag the critically injured infantryman to a protected position away from the enemies’ crosshairs. Once he brought the soldier to safety, he doubled back directly into harm’s way to rescue another one. And another. And another.
His extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty on that harrowing first day of the 1968 TET Offensive would earn him the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. “Just doing my job,” Matz says in typically matter-of-fact fashion. “Every soldier showed tremendous courage in the face of intense enemy fire.”
Frankly, the last person to tell you about Matz’s incredible display of courage is Matz himself, which is exactly what you’d expect from a man whose humility and dedication to his fellow soldiers were the hallmarks of his exceptional military career.
“The bravery our infantry men showed on a daily basis in Vietnam, and on that specific day, will always stay with me,” says Matz, who also received the Silver Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman Badge for his valorous service in combat. “I was in awe of them. They showed me what courage and valor were on the battlefield, and what it truly means to be a soldier.”
Ask him to pick a memorable experience from his 33 years of service, and he’ll mention his tenure as executive secretary to two Secretaries of Defense: Casper Weinberger and Frank Carlucci. “A different kind of battlefield, but a battlefield nonetheless,” he says with affected politeness.
He’s also quick to credit his educational experience at the university — where he earned a master’s in political science and international relations — with helping him pave a path to the nerve center of the American military. “The education I received at USD went a long way in helping me prepare for the opportunity to work at the Pentagon. I’m especially thankful to Dr. Theil, my research and thesis advisor. He questioned every word I penned, and challenged me to think critically.”
Matz retired from the military in 1995 at the rank of Major General, and even though his days on the front line may be over, he continues to make sure no solider is left behind. He remains a strong advocate for veterans’ benefits, and helps returning servicemen and women re-establish themselves in civilian life — a transition Matz knows can be equal parts challenging and frustrating.
“The veterans from my age group, the Vietnam veterans, came home to an unwelcoming nation, quite frankly,” he says. “I want to make sure that this generation of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as soldiers of this great nation. They are America’s greatest resource.” — Mike Sauer
View a video honoring Matz as a 2016 Alumni Honoree.