By: Sharon Aron Baron
The City of Coral Springs presented their Memorial Day service on Monday with a six-time recipient of the Purple Heart who spoke about Veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The service was led by Ron Stancavage of the Veterans Coalition. The Invocation was given by Chaplain Paul Veliyathil of Vitas Innovative Hospice Care and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Vice Mayor Dan Daley. The Presentation of Colors was given by the Coral Springs Cadet Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol and the Salute Volley and Echo Taps were presented by the Coral Springs Honor Guard.
Also speaking at the ceremony were Mayor Skip Campbell, Vice Mayor Dan Daley, and Commissioners Lou Cimaglia, Joy Carter and Larry Vignola.
The featured speaker was Thomas Matteo, a retired Staff Sergeant with the United States Marine Corps and retired Law Enforcement professional. He is the son of Italian immigrants, who came to America in the late 1800s from Naples, Italy. His father and mother both served in the United States military during WWII.
Matteo joined the Marines in 1963 after graduating from Miami Senior High School. During his tour in Vietnam, he was wounded and treated on the USS Hope and then was twice wounded again, and sent back to the United States. After coming back, he continued his service at Camp Lejune and Parris Island.
In 1967, Matteo served his country in a different way and became the quarterback of the Marines Corps football team in Virginia. In 1968, he received orders back to Vietnam, where in his line of duty he was wounded three times and sent back to the US for medical treatment. He was honorably discharged in early 1970, after serving over five years.
Returning to civilian life, Matteo joined the City of Miami Police Department. While working in the Robbery Unit in North Bay Village, he was awarded the highest police award, The Medal of Valor, for stopping an armed robbery in progress with two armed suspects. A year later he was offered a job as police chief and joined the Hialeah Gardens Police Department where he remained until 1984.
From 1984 through 1992, Matteo was a consultant and a contract employee of the US Treasury Department, US Customs Investigative Services Group. He then went into the private sector until 2005, where he supervised Human Resources, Risk Management, Safety, OSHA and Loss Prevention.
Matteo was diagnosed with an Agent Orange-related disease in 2005. His experience in Vietnam is currently being filmed in Hollywood, where he serves as a technical advisor on the project.
He told the audience that every day he continues to fight for what he feels is the American way and that he lives every day with a full heart enjoying his freedom in this great nation, thanks to the fallen heroes.
“Heroes don’t wake up every day and say I’m going to do something heroic. They wake up and say I’m going to do my very best for my fellow warriors standing next to me,” said Matteo. “That’s what heroes are made out of.”
He said a hero’s value is derived from three things: their honor as Americans, their courage, and their commitment to their fellow warriors. No deviations, just those simple values, he added.
“I personally know, respect, and honor every day of my life. 256 friends of mine, each one of them heroes – and they would sacrifice themselves again for us. No greater love is that of an individual who sacrifices his love and life for his fellow man,” he said.
He spoke about his passion for helping returning Veterans suffering from PTSD. He said many are dying from a war within themselves. Each day 22 American Veterans are taking their lives. He called them heroes who are no different from those who lost their lives on the battlefield. The only difference is, their war is still continuing.
“PTSD destroys human beings, families and the society we live in. It is destructive. These wounded warriors have lasting scars that will affect them throughout their lives. We must continue supporting these men and women. Our heroes, our legacy.”
In closing, Matteo challenged everyone to support a cause like working with programs for the VA or find programs where they can assist the wounded warriors coming home.
Find out more about Matteo’s project at WoundedHeroesMovie.com.