Local veteran is an All-Star

HOWLAND – The whole family was overwhelmed with excitement after Ray Matwich, 92, of Howland, was selected as one of 30 veterans for the Major League Baseball and PEOPLE Magazine “Tribute for Heroes” campaign.

“When I got the notice he was picked as a finalist, I was kinda shook up. I called my son and my daughter, and we screamed,” his daughter, Patricia Kosiba, said Sunday in a phone call from New York. “We were just thrilled.”

And they weren’t the only ones. Matwich, a World War II Army veteran who now lives at Shepherd of the Valley in Howland, was paraded around by the nurses and residents after receiving the good news.

“It was hard to believe,” Matwich said Sunday. “And it’s not over yet.”

Matwich was nominated for the honor by his grandson, Adam Kosiba, and Patricia Kosiba. He will represent the Cleveland Indians at the 84th All-Star Game Tuesday at Citi Field in New York City.

The three of them arrived in New York City Saturday and he said he’s been on the trip of a lifetime, with a private tour of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a VIP reception on the USS Intrepid and a day at the Home Run Derby – before attending the pre-game ceremony Tuesday that leads up to the All-Star game at 7:30 p.m.

The highlight of the trip so far was seeing Mariah Carey and the New York Philharmonic play Saturday night in Central Park, Matwich said.

“I feel like a celebrity here. They treat me like a king.”

The Tribute for Heroes campaign recognizes veterans and military service members of the Armed Forces of the United States or Canada in an effort to support Welcome Back Veterans, an initiative of Major League Baseball and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which addresses the needs of veterans after they return from service.

Along with the MLB’s grants to hospitals and clinics that provide treatment for military men and women, PEOPLE magazine is partnering with Welcome Back Veterans and other organizations committed to doing the same thing. It will also feature the veterans in editorial stories throughout the year.

Adam Kosiba came across the campaign in early April on the MLB website and thought his grandfather was more than deserving of this opportunity.

“He said the MLB and PEOPLE Magazine were paying tribute to the nation’s heroes and that we should nominate Grandpa. Since I knew more about his history in the war, I wrote up the essay and application,” Patricia Kosiba said.

Matwich was drafted into the Army on July 4, 1942. His training included four months specializing in combat before serving in the 6th Corps Combat Engineers and as a military policeman.

During the invasion of southern France, he guarded the door to the war room where planning for Operation Dragoon was taking place. General Truscott told him to stand guard inside.

“The generals must have had a lot of trust in me,” Matwich said.

The veteran didn’t willingly join the military and was in combat situations throughout his time in the Army. Though he faced several close calls, he said he was never injured during combat.

His story was featured Nov. 2, 2009, in the weekly Tribune Chronicle profiles of area veterans.

Patricia Kosiba said, “Besides him being a World War II veteran and seeing action, he was a baseball coach for many different ages groups for quite a few years.”

She said her father also was a board member for the Warren Township Board of Education before he was hired as a clerk treasure for the Leavittsburg school district.

“The school was in the red before he took that position, and he did a fantastic job bringing them into the black,” she said. “He was as tight with the school’s money as he was with his own money.”

Patricia and Adam Kosiba live in Canada, but were originally from the Warren area. Since they had a close connection with Cleveland, they decided it would make the most sense to nominate Matwich for the Indians representative.

“The next thing I know, I got a call from PEOPLE magazine that they accepted his nomination,” Patricia said.

He was chosen by the league, the magazine and a panel as one of 90 finalists for all 30 MLB clubs and one of three potential finalists to represent the Indians. It was now up to the fans nationwide to casts their votes and pick the 30 winners whose stories range from serving in World War II through Afghanistan.

When Patricia found out her father was a potential finalist, she said the word spread quickly among family and friends.

“I told everyone to go online and vote,” she said. “He was up against two young decorated men who are also heroes… They’re all heroes. But it was stiff competition.”

It wasn’t long before the family’s wish came true. After a three-week voting period and a monthlong wait, the winners were declared July 11.

The veterans and one guest receive first class accommodations for five days and four nights, and they are booked solid from the moment they arrive until they’re back on the plane.

“We don’t have much time to do anything else. We sight-see, go on tours, and tomorrow we have an interview at a press conference. And this all before the game,” Matwich said Sunday.

“It’s a wonderful tour, and you get to meet other veterans. I can go up and talk to them and they come and talk to me,” Matwich said. “It’s emotional to see all the veterans here.”