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Dycusburg Greets Matthews With Warm Welcome Home

A Dycusburg Welcome
Magistrate Greg West holds the sign that will indicate the new boat ramp at Dycusburg in honor of Chase Matthews, a Dycusburg native injured in the Iraq war. Also pictured are Chase's dad, Rudy, and his aunt, Barbara Ethridge. On Saturday, the southern Crittenden County community honored Chase with a homecoming celebration. Photo by Daryl K. Tabor
From the Sept. 6, 2007 issue of The Crittenden Press

By Daryl K. Tabor

From the time he was a baby, he’s been groomed for responsibility. He missed only one day of school in 12 years. He joined the military at 17. And he is determined to not let his injury become a setback.

Chase Matthews just wants things to get back to normal. In fact, he seems rather uncomfortable even enjoying a birthday congratulations.

"He doesn’t like it," his father Rudy said of the attention lavished upon his only son. The town of Dycusburg gathered in Matthews’ name Saturday -- the day he turned 23 -- to not only say happy birthday, but to say thanks for the sacrifices and pain he and his family have endured the last six months. You see, when Matthews stood to accept their gratitude, he leaned on a cane to steady himself on two prosthetic legs.

The Kentucky Army National Guard soldier who missed his only day of public school to enlist with his father’s blessing at the age of 17 lost his legs and suffered a severely damaged left arm from a violent explosion that ripped apart the Humvee he was driving. The incident, which injured two more soldiers in the Marion-based Guard unit, occurred March 19 in southern Iraq.

Four days later, Matthews lay in Walter Reed Army Medical Center with Rudy and his aunt, Barbara Ethridge, by his side. The next five months would involve countless doctor visits and surgical procedures and its share of tears, setbacks, accomplishments and pride.

Today, Matthews treats his injury as more of an annoyance because of the attention it draws. It certainly hasn’t slowed him down.

"He’s been on the go after that first week back (home)," his father said. Sitting on his new, sporty, yellow four wheeler, Matthews jokes with his half-brother Craig Stone about his new shoe size, up to an 11 to provide better balance for his tall, thin frame. He then pulls up his left pant leg to reveal an $80,000 prosthesis that can adjust his height, too.

"You should’ve joined the Marines," Stone quipped to his brother.

Stone himself is prepping for his third tour in Iraq. He visited Dycusburg over Labor Day weekend from his post in North Carolina just to spend some time with Chase, who shrugs off the Marine comment with his own less-thanflattering comment about jarheads.

Chase needs little help in getting around. He ambles about carefully with his cane often off the ground. He needs no special equipment to operate his four-wheeler nor his new GMC Yukon Denali.

The blast left a portion of his right leg below the knee, but the left leg was removed almost to the hip. Months of therapy have helped him completely shed his wheelchair.

"He won’t use it," said Ethridge. After Rudy and Chase’s mom, Starla Bates, separated while he was still a baby, Ethridge became a sort of mother figure to her nephew. She has remained nearby her brother in Dycusburg, raising three of her own children.

But Rudy and Chase never needed much help. They managed on their own, growing together into what seems more like a friendship now than a father-son relationship, though Rudy clearly passed along his once red hair and reserved, polite nature to his son.

"He grew up with Rudy letting him make his own decisions," Ethridge said.

Disabled and unable to work due to a back injury, Rudy was able to stay at Walter Reed with his son during his recovery. Most of that time he was alone with Rudy, save visits from doctors, nurses and celebrities. However, Ethridge was able to share some of the burden with her younger brother the first weeks after Chase’s injury.

"The first month was critical for Rudy," she said. Needless to say, after a half-century of growing up together in Dycusburg, Rudy and his sister grew even closer, both emotionally and physically.

"I said to Rudy, did you ever think we’d be sharing a room at this age?" she joked.

The tragedy even drew Ethridge closer to her other sibling, Carol Strilko who lives in Chicago. The two talked everyday while Ethridge was in Washington, D.C., with Rudy and Chase.

"She kept me going," Ethridge said. Now, Ethridge finds solace in watching Chase improve every day. There is still one more major surgery at Walter Reed later this month to further repair his injured arm.

More may follow until he is released from Army care, but he’s made it so far with the same resolve that found him in the classroom everyday.

"His doctor said he was the most determined he’s seen," Ethridge said of Chase’s orthopedist.

Saturday was special for Chase and his family. He was made a Kentucky Colonel by Rep. Mike Cherry. A recreational area and boat ramp in Dycusburg will bear Chase’s name.

Several of his fellow National Guard soldiers visited for the first time since returning home. But Ethridge believes nothing is more important than this: "The main thing is, Chase is a fine young man."