Hero in York robbery case receives rarely awarded Four Chaplains medallion

The award was presented to Javan Matthews at the Four Chaplains 30th Anniversary Gala on May 11.

Written by:
Katie Elwell
“Getting the award in his name is an honor,” Javan Matthews of York says. “Just like me, he didn’t really have a big part in the situation. Still, he stuck his neck out there. I’m just blessed to be alive.” (Brady Pappas/Our York Media)

This May, the Four Chaplains Memorial of York County awarded The Charles W. David Jr. Lifesaving Medallion to Javan Matthews of York. The Medallion, which the York County chapter had never awarded before, is given only to those who have saved the life of another.

Last summer, Javan did just that at great personal risk.

Javan entered the Six Oh One corner store in York on August 18, 2021, and soon realized that the store was in the midst of being robbed. A man had the clerk at gunpoint, demanding she give him the cash in the register.

“I have a mom, sisters, a daughter. The best thing to do was to help this lady,” Javan remembers. “I would feel like less of a man leaving somebody in that situation.”

The gunman fired a shot at the clerk before Javan wrestled him to the ground, in the process getting shot three times. He managed to get the gun away before the gunman made a run for the door. He was later apprehended by the police.

Stepping up in the face of life-threatening danger has changed Javan’s perspective on life.

“It’s opened my eyes,” he says. “I see life differently, knowing you can be here and be gone in a flash. It’s woke me up, brought me closer to my family.”

In honor of a life sacrificed for others

“We chose Javan because his heroic actions likely saved a life,” says Terry Gendron, President of the Four Chaplains Memorial of York County. The award was presented at the Four Chaplains 30th Anniversary Gala on May 11.

When Javan learned he was being honored with The Charles W. David Jr. Lifesaving Medallion, he was speechless. Charles W. David Jr.’s life spoke to his story of saying yes to helping others when your life is at stake.

Charles served as a Coast Guardsmen during World War II. As a black man, he was segregated from his white counterparts and treated as a second-class citizen. Despite that, he was promoted to Mess Attendant First Class and served aboard the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Comanche.

On February 3, 1943, as the Comanche was escorting The USAT Dorchester from the United States to Greenland, a German submarine fired a torpedo into the Dorchester, sinking it within 20 minutes.

As the now-memorialized Four Chaplains served those aboard the sinking Dorchester, Charles climbed off his own ship to help the men in Dorchester lifeboats and those floating in the icy waters of the Atlantic to get aboard the Comanche.

Rope nets had been flung over the side of the Comanche so those in the lifeboats could climb aboard, but most were already sinking into hypothermia and were too weak to climb. From his position on a lifeboat, Charles tirelessly helped carry men up the net while shouting encouragement to those around him. Charles and several of his crewmates were able to save 97 men from the Dorchester.

Amid the chaos and tumultuous 10-foot waves, the Comanche’s Executive Officer Lieutenant Langford Anderson was spotted in the ocean. Charles dived in and pulled Lt. Anderson to safety.

Charles never recovered from that night. Pneumonia quickly set in, and within two months, he had passed away.

After his death, the Coast Guard awarded him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, which Lt. Anderson, whose life he had saved, presented to his widow and young son.

Do the right thing

When Javan learned the story of his award’s namesake, he felt humbled yet proud.

“Getting the award in his name is an honor,” Javan says. “Just like me, he didn’t really have a big part in the situation. Still, he stuck his neck out there. I’m just blessed to be alive.”

Javan’s advice to those who ever find themselves in a similar situation is simple: “Just do the right thing.”

About the Four Chaplains Memorial of York County

The Four Chaplains Memorial of York County commemorates and honors the service of the Four Chaplains who sacrificed their lives in World War II. The organization awards scholarships to students from Alexander D. Goode Elementary School. Learn more here.