Stevens Point Airport Renamed After Hero Fighter Pilot
Wisconsin’s first “Jet Ace” was born in Stevens Point
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point Municipal Airport has been renamed after a local war hero.
Now called the “Stevens Point Municipal Airport/ Mattson Field”, the airport has been renamed to honor the first Jet Ace (a designation given to a military aviator with a high number of aerial victories) to come out of Wisconsin- Conrad “Connie” Mattson.
Airport Manager Jason Draheim said he couldn’t stress how unique the opportunity was.
“He was a local individual, a local hero and is a national hero…’Firsts’ in aviation harbor a great source of pride for the flying and non-flying community alike,” Draheim said in a memo to city leaders. “We are extremely fortunate to have the privilege of claiming such an influential pilot as one of our own.”
Serving His Family’s New Country
Born in 1919 to Swedish immigrants who had only recently moved to Stevens Point, Mattson enlisted in the army after graduating from Emerson High School and first served in D Battery, 120th Field Artillery Unit but later applied to the Army Air Corps where he trained as a fighter pilot.
Mattson was Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in November of 1943 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and assigned to the Pacific Theater. During a training mission on Thanksgiving 1944, engine failure forced Mattson to bail out into the Pacific Ocean, where his chute caught the wind and dragged him under the water, forcing him to cut his parachute lines before getting free. He awaited rescue four hours in his dingy, but this event sealed his induction in The Goldfish Club for “escaping death through the use of his emergency dingy or life jacket”.
Mattson was assigned to Iwo Jima, where his 21st Fighter Group had landed shortly after a Marine unit secured the island from Japanese forces. Mattson and his cadre stayed in tents near the airfield, and on March 26, 1945- just 11 days after Mattson arrived- the island was attacked by three Japanese units. Mattson, along with other pilots, had become temporary infantry soldiers fighting through a hail of Japanese grenades, and were pinned down for 45 minutes before reaching safety.
In the subsequent air battles, Mattson shot down at least two enemy aircraft, and damaged several others. After WWII ended, Mattson remained in the service and became one of the first Army Air Corps pilots to ever fly a jet.
Mattson returned to the states and continued flying the new jets produced for the military. During a cross- country flight in 1947, the typically- clear canopy of the P-80 Shooting Star he was flying began to fog over, forcing him to make an emergency landing on a municipal landing strip in Peoria, Illinois which was much shorter than what his jet was designed for. The landing- and later, the takeoff- went off without a hitch.
Mattson also served during the Korean War, where he shot down at least two more enemy aircraft, earning him the official designation of “Jet Ace”.
After the war, Mattson was recognized for flying twice the speed of sound and also served as an advisor to the German Air Force. Among his accolades are the bestowed honors of the Distinguished Flying Cross with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He retired as a Lt. Colonel after 38 years in the service and died in California in 2001. He is interred at Forest Cemetery in Stevens Point.
Commemorating a Hero
The Stevens Point City Council approved renaming the air field at its January meeting. The Council heard a presentation last November on Mattson’s accomplishments but given the weight of renaming the airfield, Mayor Andrew Halverson asked Council Members to take the time to consider its importance before voting.
John Dorsey, secretary-treasurer of Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, came from Oshkosh to encourage the renaming. Before the Council, Dorsey noted several other Wisconsin airports named after admirable soldiers of the past.
“Walking up here tonight I couldn’t help but notice the picture of the founders of this community, as well as a lot of memorabilia from a Civil War hero,” Dorsey said. “It’s that type of history that extends well beyond the walls of city halls everywhere in the state.”
Mayor Andrew Halverson said renaming the field gives the air field a certain prestige in recognizing Matton, and would also make the airport a destination for people interested in aviation or military history.
But Alderman Tony Patton said he didn’t understand how renaming the field would benefit the city because pilots don’t use the field’s full name when landing.
“As far as naming it ‘Stevens Point Municipal’, it kind of recognizes everyone in the city…I’d like to see us maybe take the solar hanger and name that after this gentleman,” Patton said. “You could say you’re going to this gentleman’s hanger and announce the name of it. I don’t think people are going to use the name ‘Conrad (Mattson) Field’ as much as if you named the hanger. You could keep referring to it, and keep that name alive. I just don’t think pilots are going to refer to the full name. Not taking anything away from this gentleman, but those are just my thoughts on it. It would honor him more if we named the building after him.”
Alderman Mike O’Meara disagreed, saying it was only right to name the entire airfield after Mattson.
“Sometimes we think too small when we do these things. Long after none of us in this room are around, it will still be Conrad (Mattson) Field,” O’Meara said. “Children will know you can live in Stevens Point and aspire to some sort of greatness. I think that’s the real value.”
Halverson, who said Mattson was “extremely worthy of this recognition” said it’s likely a formal dedication ceremony recognizing the renamed field would occur in the spring.