MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Traveling through the airport one day nearly five years ago, Dr. Jack “Blackjack” Matthews, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, was stopped by a lance corporal wearing his Service A uniform who said, “Thank you, your story really helped me out.”
Matthews recalled many moments like this as the reason he travels around the Marine Corps, and speaks to service members about his battle with alcohol and his recovery.
Matthews spoke to Combat Center Marines and sailors Aug. 24 and 25 at the Sunset Cinema in hopes his story could help another fellow Marine start on the road to recovery.
Matthews said he has spent the last 13 years traveling everywhere from Okinawa to North Carolina and has told his story to approximately 300,000 Marines. He plans to continue to speak anywhere he is invited.
Matthews opened his talks by telling stories of how his drinking got him in trouble in his personal life and professional career.
He spoke of a time when he was a first lieutenant and got “blackout” drunk in a hospital after being wounded in Vietnam.
How he told visiting retired Marine Corps Gen. Harry Schmidt, the commanding general of 4th Marine Division during the World War II island hopping campaign in the Pacific, he did not think the landing on Iwo Jima was handled correctly.
After Matthews was told about the comments he made by the admiral in charge of the hospital the next day, Matthews revealed he knew little about the actual invasion on Iwo Jima.
Throughout his story, Matthews told how he slowly lost control of his life, how knew he couldn’t drink anymore, yet was unable to go a single day without a drink.
That vicious cycle is why he and alcoholics like him keep drinking for so long — even after they have lost everything important to them, Matthews explained.
However, his story was not one of all woe and despair.
Matthews told his audience after one night of particularly hard drinking around his chain of command, he again made a foolhardy comment in a blackout, and it was then he was told to seek help for his alcohol problem.
He chose to see a military psychologist who immediately sent him to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland for rehabilitation, which he says, coupled with regularly attending 12-step meetings, saved his life.
Matthews said his experience can serve as an inspiration to anyone struggling with a problem with alcohol, because the best time to quit is before the problem gets out of control.
“I recently attended a rehab program in San Diego,” said a Marine who asked to remain anonymous. “Hearing stories like Mathews’ just reinforces what I learned. I just hope people starting to struggle with addiction who hear his story get help before it is too late and they ruin their lives.”
Matthews’ story is only one of many alcoholics who have overcome their disease.
“If my story can help even one Marine, then my trip is worth it,” Matthews said. “Even though I’ve retired, it’s a ‘Semper Fi’ kind of thing.”
If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or for more information on substance abuse, call your unit’s substance abuse counselor or the Combat Center’s Substance Abuse Couseling Center at 830-6376.