LJS project brings honor to Tennessee's WWI service men and women

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As a sergeant in the Marine Corps for more than six years, Tim Mathisen completed two tours of Iraq. In 2006, he was part of a convoy security team. Two years later, Mathisen was part of a stability and security operation in villages located in the western part of that country.

Tim Mathisen, left, and Lucus Pickard, right, who graduated in December 2012 with a degree in law, justice and society and received a Purple Heart for his service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, participated in the first "Never Forgotten Doughboys Project" ceremony on Aug. 23 in Lynchburg, Tenn.

Already an unusual life history for a 27-year-old. But there’s more.

For the past three years, the Eagleville, Tenn., native has served full-time with the Tennessee Army National Guard, through which he was a military honors coordinator with the military funeral honors program. He has worked tirelessly to honor Tennessee’s fallen soldiers by coordinating military honors at their funerals.

During this time, Mathisen conducted more than 300 funerals and directed nearly 2,000 military funeral arrangements for veterans.

One day in May 2012, Mathisen conducted military funeral honors at a memorial ceremony with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife, Crissy, to remember seven fallen soldiers. It was an event that sparked a passion in Mathisen.

“Two of the soldiers honored that day were missing in action from the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Their remains were not identified until 2011,” said Mathisen. “This ignited my interest in honoring those soldiers who never received military funeral honors. It made me curious to discover who has never received those honors.”

This past spring as a senior law, justice and society major in Lipscomb’s Institute for Law, Justice and Society, Mathisen was tasked with finding a problem and developing a solution as part of his capstone project that he had to complete prior to graduation in May.

Mathisen’s curiosity led him to discover that a majority of World War I veterans have not received official military funeral honors. Through research at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, he found that nearly 100,000 Tennesseans served honorably in WWI and were buried without military honors.

As a result of that discovery Mathisen resolved to find a way to honor those veterans through his senior project. And, the Never Forgotten Doughboys Project was born. In it, Mathisen proposed a collaboration of the Tennessee Army National Guard and communities throughout Tennessee to honor and archive each of the state’s 100,000 WWI veterans over time.

“Our nation shows its deepest gratitude for those who faithfully served through the rendering of military funeral honors,” said Mathisen. “The Never Forgotten Doughboys Project is a joint effort between the Tennessee Army National Guard and local communities to ensure that every deserving Tennessee WWI veteran receives official honors.”

Doughboy is an informal term for a member of the United States Army or Marine Corps, especially members of the American Expeditionary Forces in WWI.

Mathisen said comprehensive lists of WWI service members have been challenging to find through the years due to federal regulation. Prior to a congressional act in 2000, it was the responsibility of veteran service organizations such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the Marine Corps League to honor their brothers and sisters who served, according to Mathisen, but the legislation prevented official record of these memorials in the national archives.

“I found that these WWI veterans hadn’t received the honors they were due—unless they were killed in combat— and they hadn’t been archived nationally,” he said.

Mathisen embarked on a painstaking quest to find information about as many of Tennessee’s WWI veterans as possible. He sought their names, counties, ages and discharge information. He found no documentation of WWI veterans receiving official military funeral honors.

“We have done a good job of honoring current soldiers whose families wanted their loved ones to be buried with honors,” said Mathisen. “With over 100,000 Tennesseans who served honorably in WWI, the task of rendering military funeral honors seemed daunting. So I developed a proposal to create a sustainable program that can be replicated by any regional coordinator with the military funeral honors program.”

Each of these events will include the full military honors of a firing party, sounding of taps, flag folding and flag presentation.

Mathisen began by focusing his efforts on one of the smallest counties in his region—Moore County, Tenn. He, along with other Tennessee Honor Guard personnel, compiled a list of service members who either enlisted in, were born in or resided in Moore County. They found a total of 83.

On Friday, Aug. 23, the Never Forgotten Doughboys project honored Moore County’s 83 WWI veterans with a final salute—and the military honors they are due. Their ceremony took place on the public square in Lynchburg, Tenn., the Moore County seat.

Randy Spivey, assistant professor of law, justice and society at Lipscomb, said senior capstone projects such as Mathisen’s are tangible ways that students can put their passions into action.

“These projects allow students to take a creative and critical step into the kind of work they would like to do after graduation both to provide experience and build a resume, but to do so in the context of service to the community,” said Spivey. “These are action focused projects, for the most part, that allow students to engage their heart and spirit in their professional development.”

The Never Forgotten Doughboys Project is a good example of what Spivey wants students to accomplish with their projects.

“Tim’s project provides a bridge from academics to the professional world,” he said. “Tim used what he learned in his major, in his research and writing skills and in his critical thinking to identify a need for healing and systematically went about providing a mechanism to address that need.”

Mathisen found his way to Lipscomb after completing an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Motlow State Community College. He was invited to attend the Charlie Daniels Scholarships for Heroes concert in March 2010 by then-director of veterans services David K. Hughes.

“I went to the concert and fell in love with the Lipscomb campus,” said Mathisen.

He received an ROTC scholarship to attend Lipscomb, discovered the university’s law, justice and society program and found a place where he felt cared for and nurtured.

“When you come back from combat, you’ve been through a very stressful time,” he recalls. “You go through a lot of life changes as you reintegrate into normal life. I had some really great professors—Charla Long, Randy Spivey and Christin Shatzer—who especially helped me and were always there to help me. They could tell that I wanted to try to do something good with my life. Sometimes, they would meet me halfway when I needed it most.”

“Lipscomb provided an excellent learning experience for me. But, it’s the personal growth and professional development that has really made a difference in my life.”

Mathisen awaits word on a future deployment to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, he is an ROTC recruiter at Vanderbilt University. He said he hopes to one day return to Lipscomb to pursue a master’s degree in conflict management.

For more information on the law, justice and society program, visit ljs.lipscomb.edu.