Mathew B. Juan, World War I Warrior
We are soon approaching the observance of our Memorial Day, a day to honor those who have died serving our nation during war. It is important that we reflect and honor those who have served and given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation so that their service and sacrifices will never be forgotten.
One of the sons of the Gila River Indian Community who gave his life in World War I is Mathew B. Juan, a name known to all those who drive past the Veteran’s Memorial Park which is named for both Ira H. Hayes and Mathew B. Juan. Each year in February we remember and honor Ira H. Hayes on the anniversary of his raising of the American Flag over Iwo Jima in World War II. This year we additionally want to honor the memory of Matthew B. Juan on the 90th anniversary of his death during the Battle of Cantigny, France on the 28th of May, 1918 and to provide some of the recently discovered history of his life. Much of the sources of this information have been through researching of online archives of the Casa Grande Dispatch, the Casa Grande Valley Dispatch and The Bulletin (of Casa Grande), communications with the First Division Museum in Illinois, and other articles on the internet.
Mathew B. Juan was born in San Tan in the late 1890s (exact date of birth is currently unknown). His parents were Joseph and Mary B. Juan and he had several brothers including Antonio B. Juan and Sibley Juan and one sister. Mathew attended the Sherman Institute in Riverside, California where he studied agriculture. He returned to the reservation and worked at the experimental farm for three years. The newspaper articles described Mathew’s love of sports and how he not only excelled in baseball, but also in swimming, running, jumping, and taking honors in competition. Mathew also excelled in the Sacaton rodeos where he won prizes in many events including his specialty of calf roping. He was truly an outstanding athlete. On September 17th, 1917, the Ringling Bros. Circus came to Phoenix for a show and after seeing the show, Mathew asked the manager for a job. Mathew was hired by Ringling Bros and he again left the reservation traveling with the show. Then when the circus was touring in Texas, Mathew answered the call for volunteers to join our military as the United States was now involved in the War being fought in Europe, the First World War. Mathew sent a postcard home to his parents “I have joined the army”. Records indicate that Mathew B. Juan used an assumed name of Mathew B. Rivers to enlist as he was not old enough to enlist without permission. All of his military records are under the last name of Rivers and his first name is spelled either Mathew or Matthew. After training in Texas as part of the Camp Travis Detachment #2, Mathew was sent to Hoboken, New Jersey.Mathew boarded the S.S. Tuscania, a luxury ocean liner converted to a troop ship bound for France along with over 2,000 other troops. On the 5th of February, 1918, the S.S. Tuscania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat with the loss of 230 lives. This was the first American troop ship sunk in World War I. Mathew was a survivor and continued on and arrived in France where he was assigned to the 28th Infantry of the U.S. Army’s First Division “The Big Red One”. The 28th Infantry regiment later became known as the “Black Lions” and the “Lions of Cantigny”. On the 28th of May, 1918, the United States fought the first sustained offensive battle of World War I at Cantigny, France. On that day, Mathew B. Juan, was killed by machine gun fire during the battle. Mathew was buried in France after the battle.
In 1921, at the behest of his family, his body was exhumed and sent back to the United States. For a second time, Mathew would arrive in Hoboken, New Jersey on his way to the Fisher Funeral Home in Casa Grande.On the 9th of April, 1921 over 1,000 people attended his reburial in his native ground at the Cook MemorialChurch in Sacaton. The then governor of Arizona, Thomas E. Campbell, prepared a speech to the Mathew’s family and the Pima Indians of Arizona honoring and recognizing his heroic sacrifice for his gift to us and his country for the freedoms which our country currently enjoys.
In 1927, the American Legion, Department of Arizona, voted at their annual meeting to erect a memorial monument to Mathew B. Juan in Sacaton and on Memorial Day, 1928, that monument was dedicated in what is currently the Veteran’s Memorial Park. The monument was made entirely of native materials. During World War II and again on the 50th Anniversary of his death during the Vietnam Conflict, there were large ceremonies conducted at the monument.
It is fitting this Memorial Day to again remember and honor Mathew B. Juan along with all our other war veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Mathew B. Juan became the First American Indian to be killed in World War I and also the First Arizonan killed in World War I. In the latest research it appears that after the war, there were additional reports issued to recognize the efforts of soldiers who had fought in the battles. In the World War Records, First Division, Index to Citations, it lists Mathew would be entitled to the Silver Star Medal for “gallantry in action and especially meritorious services.”
We need to remember and honor all of our warriors on this and all of our annual Memorial Days and continue to maintain their history to pass along to all future generations.
By Gerald Gall, member Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post 84, Sacaton, Arizona