Mildred Matthews O'Meara
Mildred Matthews O'Meara was one of 59,000 American nurses who served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. Places they served included field hospitals, evacuation hospitals, hospital trains, hospital ships, and as flight nurses on medical transport planes.
|If you were
asked directions to Hartsaw Cove, would you know how to answer? If you do,
you are probably over the age of 50. That area of Overton County is not
referred to in that manner very often anymore. The Bethlehem Methodist
Church is located near Hartsaw Cove. The property the church stands on was
donated to the church by George Lafayette Matthews with the understanding
the hillside nearest Highway 84 would be reserved as a Matthews family
plot. And it was on that plot of ground that history was made in Overton
County on Thursday, June 8, 2006. A daughter of George Lafayette Matthews
and wife Cynthia Louise Walker Matthews, Mildred Matthews O’Meara, was
laid to rest in the family plot, and was given a full service military
funeral. She was the very first Overton County woman to be honored with a
military service. She died at the age of 91 years. The following
information was shared with me by her five children who survive her.
In the early 1900's, Franklin Matthews and wife Sara Hartsaw Matthews, grandparents of Mildred Matthews O’Meara, owned quite a bit of property in Hartsaw Cove. Franklin and Sara were the parents of eight children. The home they lived in Hartsaw Cove was torn down not too many years ago. It was near the white farm house that still stands on the right side of Highway 84 going toward Monterey. That property is now owned by Millard V. Oakley and wife J.J. Oakley.
Franklin and Sara’s oldest son was George Lafayette Matthews, father of Mildred Matthews O’Meara. George Matthew’s first wife, Betty Martin, died in child birth, and some ten years later, he married again, this time to Cynthia Louise Walker. The year they married was 1902. Cynthia Matthews was described as a beautiful seamstress and homemaker. George and Cynthia’s children were Sallie Clemintine; Frank Walker; Georgia Lee; Henrietta Mae; Turley; Shirley Keeton; Fannie Bell; Mildred Florence; Robert Carson; Andrew Hoyt. Sallie, Turley, and Shirley died before reaching the age of one year old.
Mildred spent part of her childhood days in the white farm house that originally belonged to her grandparents in Hartsaw Cove. Her parents also owned a home in Livingston. She graduated from Livingston Academy, and in 1938, completed nursing school She began her military career in 1941 with the Corps of Army Nurses and worked her way up to the rank of First Lieutenant, which is considered to be quite an accomplishment. During her career, she worked as a registered nurse at many well known institutions including Walter Reed Army Hospital, Georgetown University, Fairfax Visiting Nurses, and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.
While serving in the military, she met and married Jeremiah D. O’Meara, of Bayside, New York, an officer in the U.S. Army, who, following his tour of duty, went on to complete his education in dentistry. Just prior to being sent to serve in Europe, Mildred learned, as a result of a physical exam, she had contacted systemic tuberculosis. Because of this illness, she retired from the military after a time of recovery in an army hospital in Denver, Colorado.
Her memorial service at Bethlehem began with the entering of the members of the James T. Davis Memorial Post 5062 who volunteer their time to conduct this type of service. The color guard led the procession, and each member respectfully and solemnly walked to the casket to salute and show honor to a fellow soldier, in Mildred’s case, a veteran of World War II. I’m always so impressed with this part of the service. It leaves a lasting impression of the strong ties that bind fellow soldiers and those involved in military life. During the service, Mildred’s older son, Jeremiah (or Jerry as he is known by) was asked to speak. Jerry began by saying that "Life is about training." He described his mother as a "salt of the earth" type person, and one who sat an outstanding example for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. His words to the family members present encouraged especially the younger ones to "live life well." He ended with the words "make Mom proud."
Among those present for the memorial service was Mildred’s good friend and classmate from Livingston Academy, Mrs. Ottie Robbins. Mrs. Ottie lovingly described Mildred as always being as a happy person. She fondly remembered a time when she and another friend flew to visit Mildred and what an enjoyable time they had during that visit.
The weather for the memorial service could not have been nicer. Bethlehem church is set in one of the most picturesque places in Overton County. The view in the distance directly across from the Matthews family plot is one of typically beautiful hills and mountains our county is noted for. A pleasant breeze was blowing as the closing part of the military service was conducted. Folding of the American flag that draped the casket and presentation to a family member was followed by the traditional firing of rifles. Playing taps that ended the service not only brings tears, but re-enforces the fact that we should never forget those who have faithfully served our country. In her travels during her outstanding military career, I’m sure Mildred saw and lived in many wonderful places, but she choose Bethlehem as her final resting place. Her remains could have been placed in Arlington National Cemetery with others like her who achieved a very high rank and status while in service. She chose not to do so, preferring to return to the place she grew up in. And even though I did not know her personally, I think that speaks volumes about the type person she was. I felt honored to be present for this history making event in memory of a person who accomplished much in life, but never forgot where she came from.
The children who survive her are: Jeremiah Daniel O’Meara, Jr., Grover Beach, California; George M. O’Meara, Charlottesville, Virginia; Cynthia O’Meara Amburgey, Johnson City, Tennessee; Kathleen O’Meara Painter, Strasburg, Virginia; and Mildred O’Meara-Lett, Sterling, Virginia.