Americans will celebrate Veterans Day 2016 on Friday, Nov. 11, with events and ceremonies honoring those who served in the United States military.
For Sgt. Dave Matthews, however, every day is Veterans Day. Founder of the nonprofit Never Forgotten Memorials and a criminal justice student at UCF, this tireless supporter of veterans spends countless hours volunteering and hosting events and educational activities all year long to recognize veterans from all wars.
Matthews served in the Army National Guard for 17 years, including a tour in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. The pivotal moment during that assignment happened as he and his squad were being transported through the desolate hills of Afghanistan to a mission in Kabul. Their light military transport vehicle overturned while avoiding a landmine, and Matthews and six others soon found themselves in a Black Hawk helicopter being medically evacuated to a field hospital. Sadly, 19-year-old Pfc. Brandon Wadman, the youngest soldier in the convoy, lost his life, which had a profound effect on Matthews.
Years later, after being medically discharged with honors from the military, Matthews found his way to UCF under the Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation Program, which assists veterans with service-connected disabilities and those who are transitioning from military to civilian employment. His daughter, Lindsey, provided added motivation, as he wanted to show her that you are never too old to get an education and teach her to set a high bar and seize opportunities to improve. Now a 14-year-old high school freshman, Lindsey proudly expects to watch her father receive his bachelor’s degree this December, after which he plans to continue to work with the technical side of security.
The College of Health and Public Affairs is the largest provider of education to veterans on the UCF campus. Studying criminal justice was a natural for Matthews, who had trained as a military police officer for his deployment to Afghanistan and stayed with the 715th Military Police Unit for seven years afterwards. He counts the military appreciation football games and the 2015 Relay For Life, where he and his family and friends took turns carrying the American flag around the track without stopping, as highlights of his UCF experience.
Among his many ways of giving back to the military community, Matthews served as a volunteer/advocate for Concerned Veterans for America, is completing his Mission Continues Fellowship Program with Paralyzed Veterans of America and volunteers as a host with the USO at the Orlando International Airport as the USO celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Since starting Never Forgotten Memorials, Matthews says Veterans Day week is like the Olympics for him. Among other activities this year, Matthews and his team performed the Five Military Branch POW Table (also known as the Missing Man Table) ceremony at a Daughters of the American Revolution Winter Park Chapter luncheon, thanking and honoring Vietnam veterans during the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. On Thursday, Nov. 10, he and his team marched in the NBC Universal Studios 10th Annual Veterans Day Parade. He also will display his POW Table at various locations throughout the weekend, sharing veterans’ stories and promoting upcoming NFM events.
Members of NFM will be back out in force in Orlando on Dec. 17, in partnership with Wreaths Across America, helping the organization achieve its milestone goal of laying 1 million wreaths on fallen soldiers’ graves throughout the country. For more information about volunteering at the event or about NFM itself, visit neverforgottenmemorials.org.