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In Memoriam: Vice Admiral John M. Mateczun, MC, USN (Ret.)

Dec. 2, 2022 | By Sam Cox (Rear Adm. USN, Ret.), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret that I inform you of the passing of Vice Admiral John Matthew Mateczun, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 7 November 2022 at age 76. Vice Admiral Mateczun entered the U.S. Naval Reserve in November 1976 and served in the Medical Corps as a psychiatrist and senior health care executive until his retirement in April 2012 as commander, Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical. His other commands included Naval Hospital Charleston, South Carolina, and Naval Medical Center San Diego. He was the senior medical officer at the Pentagon during the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001. 

Mateczun attended the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1965–66 before enlisting in the U.S. Army in June 1966. Following training in fire control instrument repair, he deployed to Vietnam in June 1967 with the 94th Maintenance Company, which supported the 25th Infantry Division at Cu Chi, Republic of Vietnam, including during operations countering the Communist Tet Offensive in early 1968. He then volunteered for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training and was subsequently stationed as an EOD team sergeant with the 5th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) on Okinawa, deploying to Korat, Thailand, for theater EOD operations. In September 1969, he again deployed to Vietnam as EOD team sergeant with the 184th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) at Qui Nhon, where he was awarded a Bronze Star. He was honorably discharged in June 1970 with a grade of staff sergeant (E-6) in the U.S. Army. 

Mateczun then attended the University of New Mexico, graduating with honors in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in university studies (BUS). He entered the U.S. Naval Reserve as an ensign on 30 November 1976 in the “1915” Program (Ensign Probationary [Medical] Program) while attending the University of New Mexico Medical School. On 5 January 1977, he was appointed a lieutenant in the Medical Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve, with rank to date from 17 May 1977. He earned his doctor of medicine (MD) degree in 1978.

In June 1978, Lieutenant Mateczun reported for active duty at the Naval Regional Medical Center, Oakland, California, as resident in psychiatry for specialty training in that field. In 1979, he was certified as diplomate by the National Board of Medical Examiners. While assigned to Oakland, he earned a master’s degree in public health (MPH) from the University of California–Berkeley. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in May 1982. 

In July 1982, Lieutenant Commander Mateczun as assigned to Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, as division psychiatrist and assistant division surgeon. He augmented into the active U.S. Navy in March 1983. In August 1983, he was assigned to Naval Hospital Bethesda as a psychiatrist, with duty as head, consultation liaison division in the department pf psychiatry, and as intern advisor and transitional intern program director. In 1984, he was certified as diplomate in adult psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He was promoted to commander in June 1987. 

In August 1987, Commander Mateczun was assigned to Naval Hospital Portsmouth, Virginia, as head of the psychiatry department. During this period he earned a juris doctor (law) degree (JD) from the Georgetown University Law School. In 1988, he was certified as diplomate by the American Board of Forensic Psychiatry. That July, he was also the officer-in-charge of a specialized team sent to the Persian Gulf in support of the crew of the Aegis cruiser Vincennes (CG-49) after that ship had accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner. Subsequently, he was director of mental health support for the crew of Iowa (BB-61) following the battleship’s turret explosion in April 1989. That September, Commander Mateczun was assigned to the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Maryland, as chairman of the psychiatry department while also serving as acting director of medical services.

In November 1991, Commander Mateczun was assigned to Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Pacific, deploying to Saudi Arabia with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He was instrumental in the establishment of combat stress centers and was also the medical crewmember on the flight that retrieved repatriated American prisoners of war from Iraq through Amman, Jordan. He was promoted to captain in September 1992. 

In July 1994, Captain Mateczun reported to National Naval Medical Center Bethesda as chief of staff, Tricare Region One. In October 1995, he was assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs/Clinical Services) as principal director of clinical services and special assistant to the Assistant Secretary. He also served as chief medical officer, Tricare Management Activity. In June 1998, Captain Mateczun assumed command of Naval Hospital Charleston. In 1999, he was certified as a physician executive by the certifying commission in medical management. In October 2000, he was assigned to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, DC, as assistant chief for health care operations. 

 On 9 July 2001, he was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank. The same month, he was assigned to the Joint Staff J4 in the Pentagon as deputy director for logistics, medical readiness. He was the senior medical officer at the Pentagon during the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001 and led the medical response effort, including triage and casualty care. On 1 March 2002, he was promoted to rear admiral (lower half). 

In June 2003, Rear Admiral Mateczun was assigned to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery as chief of staff, program executive officer (N09B). In December 2003, he assumed command of Naval Medical Center San Diego and was also lead agent, Tricare Region Nine. He was responsible for deploying more than 1,000 medical personnel to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the military medical crew of hospital ship Mercy (T-AH-19) in response to the tsunami in Sri Lanka and Thailand. He also led the development of the Combat Casualty Comprehensive Care Center in San Diego—the first of its kind. He was promoted to rear admiral (upper half) on 1 May 2005.

In July 2005, Rear Admiral Mateczun was assigned to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery as deputy surgeon general/vice chief, with additional duty as director of the Military Health System Office of Transformation, Washington, DC. In September 2007, he assumed command of Joint Task Force National Capitol Region Medical and was a member of the Department of Defense Task Force on the Future of Military Health Care. In this assignment, he executed the largest and most complex base realignment and closure project in the history of Department of Defense medicine with the merger of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda. He also oversaw the construction of the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. He was promoted to vice admiral on 8 December 2008. In 2010, he received the Nathan Davis Award for outstanding government service from the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association (in which he was a Distinguished Fellow). Vice Admiral Mateczun retired on 1 April 2012.

Vice Admiral Mateczun’s awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal; Distinguished Service Medal; Defense Superior Service Medal (two awards); Legion of Merit (four awards); Bronze Star; Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Meritorious Service Medal (two awards); Navy Commendation Medal; Army Commendation Medal; Navy Achievement Medal; Joint Meritorious Unit Award (two awards); Navy Unit Commendation; Meritorious Unit Commendation (three awards); Army Meritorious Unit Commendation; Army Good Conduct Medal; Fleet Marine Force Ribbon; National Defense Service Medal (three awards); Antarctica Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal (one gold star and two bronze stars); Southwest Asia Service Medal (with Fleet Marine Force Combat Operations insignia and bronze star); Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia); and Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait). 

Following retirement from active duty, Vice Admiral Mateczun worked for United Health Care Military and Veterans as chief medical officer from 2013 to 2014, and then as president and chief executive officer from 2014 to 2019. In 2015, he became the only person to be named a distinguished alumnus of both the University of New Mexico (Zimmerman Award) and of the University of New Mexico Medical School. 

Funeral services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be determined. 

From Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, through Desert Shield/Storm, to the Pentagon on 9/11, John Mateczun always seemed to end up in the action, in which he obviously thrived. There are no doubt many in the Navy and Marine Corps who owe their lives and mental health to his service, and there are few rewards more meaningful than that. His experiences, talents, and interests were many and varied, including explosive ordnance disposal, and certainly the Medical Corps and psychiatry. He even found time to earn a law degree, apparently purely out of his joy of learning. He certainly proved capable of handling exceedingly challenging tasks, of which the capstone may have been the merger of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Medical Center into the National Military Medical Center (an evolution which many predicted would be disastrous—it was not). He was described thus: “He believed in the inherent good of all people, and would encourage all he met to achieve their greatest potential in the service of others. A guiding light in times of uncertainty, John provided unparalleled advice, compassion, and a listening ear. He would, without exception, be there to answer your call.” Perhaps his greatest contribution was the psychiatric care he gave to Navy and Marine Corps personnel in times of great trauma, such as the Vincennes’s accidental downing of an airliner, the Iowa turret explosion, the repatriation of U.S. POWs from Iraq, and as the senior medical officer at the Pentagon after the shock of 9/11. He devoted considerable attention and innovation to the comprehensive care of combat casualties, physical and mental, which has doubtlessly made a great difference to our wounded heroes. His dedication and professionalism likely came at considerable sacrifice to his own family, for which the Navy and nation should be exceedingly grateful. His impact was profound and his legacy lives on in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps today and into the future. 

Rest in Peace, Admiral Mateczun.