- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - Lawton native Jason Mattingly believes in the patriotism that burns in his veins. With the formation of nonprofit 9-11 Memorial Fire Truck Engine 343, a passion for the United States of America and service in its name allows him to serve in his own way.

“This organization will keep the memory of 9-11 alive so our nation will never forget,” Mattingly said. “I want to let people know that people still care.”

The son of a military family, Mattingly said his passion is a natural extension of his parents. His father Jerome retired from the Army after 23 years, and his mother Roberta served as an Army nurse before taking full-time duty as an Army wife. In retirement, they found a home in Fort Sill’s next-door neighbor.

Mattingly said he’s wanted to serve his country since he can remember. A diagnosis of diabetes at 6 years old and a lifetime of insulin therapy to follow quashed that. The deadliest attack on American soil rejuvenated his fire.

While living in Tennessee, the world changed after he ate breakfast with his father the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Mattingly said he thought it was any other morning when he was 21 years old - “I love my dad’s breakfast.” When his father turned on the TV news and they saw the image of one of the World Trade Center towers “with a big, gaping hole in it,” it sent them into shock. His father knew immediately it was something more.

“He said, ‘Son, that ain’t by accident,’” Mattingly said, “‘that’s an act of war.’”

“It was a change of life, a change in our country’s direction,” he said. “That really bothered me. I really love my country, man.”

Father and son hugged and cried together in the kitchen.

Mattingly calls himself “super-patriotic” and said he’s never without a flag or thanking a veteran or service person (including police, fire and emergency medical technician) or showing support in some way.

“With my diabetes, I can’t serve my country,” Mattingly said, “so this is my way of serving.”

The Lawton Constitution (https://bit.ly/2i80cLu ) reports while living in Tennessee, Mattingly joined the Hardin County Volunteer Fire Department and later became a firefighter for the city of Savannah, Tennessee. At one time he served on three volunteer departments in his county.

“I fell in love with it and felt good doing it,” Mattingly said. “I loved being a firefighter. I did that for many years.”

A 2008 move to Fort Smith, Arkansas, got him in a good place with a good job, but the call to serve remained strong. The impact of lives lost spurred him to find a way to memorialize the lives of the first responders lost during the Sept. 11 attacks.

“9-11 was our modern day Pearl Harbor,” Mattingly said. “It changed a lot of aspects of our own country.”

On the 15th anniversary of this modern “date which will live in infamy,” Mattingly said, everything clicked and came together. While driving to work, he said he saw an old fire truck on the side of the road and an idea began to formulate. He returned to try to buy the truck, but the deal fell through. The idea born that day remained: to establish a mobile memorial to the 343 firefighters who lost their lives that day.

Mattingly said he wanted to get a fire truck that could have compartments that would contain artifacts, information and the names of all the first responders lost when the Twin Towers fell. He began reaching out to different fire departments and other organizations and, quickly, the idea became a reality when the 9-11 Memorial Fire Truck Engine 343 took shape and became registered with the national 9-11 Memorial. Engine 343 was chosen to honor the 343 firefighters’ lives that were lost on 9-11. Flyers were made detailing plans for the mobile memorial and things picked up steam, he said.

Four months into the initial start-up, Mattingly filed for nonprofit incorporation and received its 501(3)c designation. He credits a team of allies that include Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Secretary of State Mark Martin and Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders with accelerating the paperwork through the process.

Barely across the state line, a little Oklahoma volunteer fire department donated an antique 1969 Ford F-1000 Super Cab fire truck and the wheels gained motion. Mattingly said it was an incredible gift by the Bokoshe Fire Department that brought it all together. The truck runs, has 32,000 original miles on it and “everything still works on it,” he said.

“It’s an educational mobile memorial,” Mattingly said.

The 15-member department’s replacement truck continues the connection between 9-11 and the project. Paula Laymon, who now serves as the nonprofit’s secretary, showed Mattingly the department’s replacement truck. It had been at ground zero immediately following the 2001 attack - “It still contains ashes from ground zero in it,” he said.

Connections are part of the project that has taken on a life of its own, Mattingly said. While discussing his plans with Bokoshe city officials, he said, he discussed a Fort Smith police officer he would like to include. “Capt. Cooper” had been a long-time friend of Mattingly’s and supported his notion for the museum. He learned that the captain’s son, Scott Cooper, was also a police officer in the community. The younger Cooper now serves as vice president of the memorial organization.

“Everything is happening for a reason and people are rolling along with it,” said Mattingly’s wife, Amanda. She serves as photographer and support for the group. “The support from around Fort Smith is overwhelming in a really good way.”

She isn’t kidding. Once the truck arrived, work began on getting it ready for its debut. In the last four months, the memorial idea has grown, Mattingly said. With the truck about six months from being ready to go on the road and educate people, he said, plans are for it to make a trip in early 2018 to Ground Zero. He said plans are for the truck to make stops along the way.

Mattingly said the organization will use its nonprofit status to collect donations. After operating costs are covered, he said, plans are for at least a couple of donations to be made each year to first responders in need. Several big sponsors have signed on and hopes are for more to follow. He cited the prior home of the truck as a first priority.

Bokoshe is a small town in LeFlore County in eastern Oklahoma that’s short on cash. Its 15-member volunteer fire department is short of SCBA equipment for all the members, not to mention other gear. Mattingly said he would love to help channel relief to that department.

“What if there’s a house fire and someone doesn’t have that SCBA equipment and needs to go inside?” he asked. “They need this gear. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Prior donations of bulletproof vests have been given to other local police departments. Anywhere those who serve can get what they need and he can help, “I’m on it.”

“We always try to do something for somebody,” Mattingly said.

Everything reconnects with the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The subject is a quick magnet for support. A newly formed Facebook group, 9-11 Memorial Fire Truck, has added 2,300 members in its first month: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1665807140396071/ .

Mattingly said conversations in the group and about the organization have already broadened the story of 9-11. He’s reaching out to survivors for their input and is hopeful that some personal items will be included in the museum exhibit.

Since his daughter was an infant when the attack happened, Mattingly said he realized there’s a generation of people who weren’t alive when it happened. He wants them to know it and never forget.

Mattingly said that Chaffee Crossing Redevelopment has approached the organization about establishing a permanent museum. Located at Fort Chaffee where Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army, its location will be next to the Elvis Presley Barbershop Museum where “The King” got his first military haircut. There will be room for large informational exhibits to include areas specifically about the fire, police, EMS, Coast Guard and other responding services, as well as a souvenir shop and a building to be added to house other service vehicles. Plans should be formalized in the coming weeks. It’s all about raising awareness of all the services, he said.

“If it weren’t for those who are part of the services, we would not be here,” Mattingly said. “These people need all the recognition they can get.”

___

Information from: The Lawton Constitution, https://www.swoknews.com

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