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William Matheny, Hero Pilot

On this date in 1930, The Fargo Forum announced that US Army Air Corps Lieutenant William Matheny received an award for bravery. Matheny was born and raised in Carrington, North Dakota. He was among the first group of US Army Air Corps pilots to fly a military airplane from the United States to the Canal Zone in Panama.

On August 30, 1929, Matheny and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Dwight Canfield, crashed after taking off from Managua, Nicaragua. The motor had caught on fire. The gas tanks burst and covered Matheny and his co-pilot in gasoline. Matheny ran away from the flaming wreckage, but turned to see Lieutenant Canfield still sitting by the wrecked plane. Matheny ran back and dragged Canfield to safety, but both men caught on fire. Matheny rolled Lieutenant Canfield in the grass until his clothes stopped burning, then Matheny did the same for himself. Both men suffered severe burns. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Canfield later died.

For this great deed of bravery, Matheny was awarded the Cheney Award and $500. This award is given annually to an Airman for “an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice, and humanitarian interest.”

Matheny had joined the US Army Air Corp in 1928, two years after he graduated from Marquette University. He went on to have a distinguished career in the Air Force, eventually becoming a Brigadier General. During World War II he commanded the 13th Bomber Command Group in the Pacific. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, and the Soldier’s Medal for Heroism. After the war he served as a commanding officer in California, New Mexico, and in Minnesota at Fort Snelling. He also spent time in Norway and Greece. He retired in 1962 and passed away in 1973 in Florida. He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


The Fargo Forum. “Act Wins Him U.S. Air Award” Fargo, ND. January 20, 1930. Page 1.

Star Tribune. “Deaths: William A. Matheny,” Minneapolis, MN. August 10, 1973. Page 5C.

Author Unknown. “William Albert Matheny,” The Wall of Valor Project. https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/30285 Accessed December 4, 2019.

Author Unknown. “Brigadier General William A. Matheny,” U.S. Air Force. https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Display/Article/106287/brigadier-general-william-a-matheny/ Accessed December 4, 2019.

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