Like all grandparents, Annie and Alex Jordan of Greenville think their grandchildren are pretty special.
But they might just have near-term bragging rights when it comes to the recent exploits of their grandson Matthew Haske, an eighth grader, history buff and “voracious reader” who received personal recognition from the President of the United States at the World War I commemoration ceremony in France in November.
Matthew, who was born in Wilmington but now lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, has always loved studying the past, according to his grandparents.
But he has a special fascination and appreciation for military history, including the two world wars and the Marine Corps. This passion led the 13-year-old to save more than $2500 by foregoing birthday presents and working various jobs so he could travel to France for last month’s 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war.
Before leaving on the extraordinary trip with his father (Matthew Haske), two uncles (Alex Jordan Jr, 45 and Christopher Jordan, 31) and grandfather, Matthew sent President Trump a letter letting him know he’d be in Paris for the big events.
Lo and behold, the White House contacted the Haskes and invited Matthew and his family to the American Commemoration Ceremony in Suresnes, France.
A pretty nifty honor, to be sure, but that was just the beginning. When they arrived at the cemetery, the Jordans and Haskes were escorted by Secret Service to seats in the second row – each with their nameplates. Then during his remarks – before a crowd of dignitaries that included some of our country’s most senior and decorated military officers and veterans – the president made a surprise announcement.
“And we have another very special guest with us — a 13-year-old boy from the United States,” said President Trump. “Matthew Haske saved all his money for two years to pay honor to our veterans in person. Thank you, Matthew. You make us very proud. Matthew, you’re way ahead of your time.”
Matthew said being called out by the president “was stunning.”
“I was really awestruck,” Matthew recalled. “I was surrounded by commanders and generals and military officials. The fact that I was invited made me realize this was something really special.”
“We were all issued White House invitations,” said proud grandfather Alex Jordan. “It was unreal. We went with Secret Service who directed us to seats in the second row where we were surrounded by all of the US Military.”
Afterwards, Matthew was in for more of a surprise when he was escorted to meet the president.
“[White House Chief of Staff] General Kelly jumped up and said something to the president, and immediately General [Joseph] Dunford turned to us and said the president wants you to come up to speak with him,” said Jordan.
Kelly, it turns out, had been the conduit for the president’s recognition of the teenager.
“This was my first trip abroad,” said Matthew, reflecting on the whirlwind week in France. “It’s kind of eye-opening to see how big the world is.”
Matthew prepared for his trip by reading a lot about the ‘Great War’ – “I think I’ve finished the entire WWI section of our community library” he explained – but also by special French language sessions.
“One of my teachers tutored me every Tuesday and Thursday on speaking French and where to go, which places to travel to.”
He recounted the inspiration and the planning pulling off the trip required. “I thought about this two years ago when I was reading a book and saw the date of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. So I worked towards it and saved. And in the summer, we really started planning.”
The young scholar’s mother Ginna and his grandmother Annie both agree their family’s interest in and respect for the nation’s history and military helped cultivate Matthew’s immersion into World War I, ultimately leading to the trip to France and the meeting with President Trump. (Matthew’s great-grandfather was a WWI aviator with the Army Air Corp, and a great uncle was a Marine who fought at the famous Battle of Belleau Wood.)
“We are all such a history-loving family. It’s a fabric of our family. We are patriots, and we love our country. He learned very young that we have what we have because a lot of people have sacrificed,” said Matthew’s grandmother Annie Jordan.
Matthew’s successful efforts to make his way to France have caught the eye of more than just the President of the United States. He met members of the WWI commission that plans to build its first memorial in Washington, DC and hopes to engage with their mission and raise awareness of World War I. And in January he’ll serve as a page in the Virginia House of Delegates.
But Matthew’s ultimate goal is a different kind of service.
“I want to be a United States Marine when I grow up.”