Remembering Banana River Naval Air Station Fox Terrier Mascot, Second Class ‘Skippy’ After 80 Years
By Roger McCormick // August 29, 2023
Banana River Naval Air Station became Patrick Air Force Base in 1950 and is now Patrick Space Force Base
For as long as service personnel have been going off to war and living on military bases, ships at sea, or battlefields far from home, they have sought ways to bring some measure of joy and comfort to their lives.
Throughout history, military units have often adopted animal mascots as a distraction from the hardships of war and as a reminder of humanity and of home. These animals may have been mere pets, but they were often thought of and treated as another important member of the unit.
One such animal was “Skippy,” who was the mascot of Headquarters Squadron 12, or Hedron 12, stationed at Banana River Naval Air Station (BRNAS), which became Patrick Air Force Base in 1950, and now, Patrick Space Force Base.
BRNAS was commissioned in 1940, and was involved with the Battle of the Atlantic as a base for aircraft patrolling off Florida’s east coast looking for German submarines, also known as U-boats.
Skippy was a Fox Terrier who first appeared at the air station in the summer of 1942. Several weeks later, the Navy issued orders stating that dogs without tags found on any base should be taken to the pound. The men of Hedron 12 did not want this fate to befall their new found friend, so they promptly adopted him as their squadron’s mascot.
To make Skippy’s place within the Hedron 12 unit seem somewhat official, he would have to enlist in the United States Navy. Named after his self-appointed guardian, Tony John Matanich, a new sailor by the name of “Tony John” (aka Skippy), joined the Navy on November 4, 1942.
Skippy was assigned a service number of 000-00-01, and given the rating of “Mascot, Second Class.” He would later earn his wings which he proudly wore on his specially designed flight jacket.
Skippy’s enlistment paperwork showed him as a United States citizen, but that his actual birthplace and date of birth was unknown. A fingerprint identification card was reportedly stamped with all four of his paws. Supposedly when asked if he planned to make the Navy his career, Skippy joyfully barked once for yes!
Though his Navy career had gotten off to a good start, Skippy’s conduct record however was not completely spotless. In early December 1942, he was called before the Captain’s Mast to answer for being absent without leave from his duty station for more than two days. His punishment was being confined to quarters for two weeks.
During this period, he also had to report to muster and report three times a day for inspection. His guardian, Matanich, was held responsible for Skippy’s prompt attendance at all times.
Tragedy occurred 80-years ago, when in early September 1943, Skippy was killed while on duty patrolling an area between the main gate of the base and a nearby seaplane hangar. A truck failed to stop in time when challenged by Skippy, striking and killing him.
John McManus, a machinist’s mate in the same unit as Skippy, was an eyewitness to what had happened.
Skippy’s body was placed in an empty bomb casing that had been painted with his name and the letters “USN” for United States Navy. A forklift with a white sheet draped over its forks carried the bomb casing with Skippy from the hangar where it had been prepared out past sailors and offices alike who were standing at attention in the hot Florida sun as it made its way to an awaiting aircraft.
Very ceremoniously, the bomb casing was lifted by some of Skippy’s squadron mates and attached to the wing of a Vought OS2U Kingfisher patrol aircraft.
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Lt. H. W. Miller, commander of Hedron 12, had the following to say to those gathered to honor Skippy; “I am unhappy to report to his countless friends on the station the sad news of the death in the line of duty of our little friend Skippy, Mascot Second Class.
Skippy was much loved by his shipmates for he was such a good sport, and his cheerful bounding presence, on duty and off, constantly kept us on our toes, in more ways than one. Skippy will be missed by all who knew him, for his untimely death is a real loss to his shipmates and to the Navy.”
As the sailors on shore gave a final salute to their fallen mascot, the plane carrying Skippy moved down a concrete ramp and slid into the Banana River for which the air station was named. With the roar of its single Pratt & Whitney engine, the aircraft skipped along the top of the water until it had the speed necessary to lift skyward.
Once airborne, the aircraft turned eastward, flying over the base and heading out over the open Atlantic Ocean. One of the two men aboard the aircraft was Tony John Matanich, the 29-year-old from Minnesota who had been Skippy’s guardian during his time spent as a mascot. When the aircraft was out over deep water, it was Matanich who pulled the lever that released the bomb casing carrying Skippy, allowing it to fall toward the ocean for an honorable burial at sea.
By all historical accounts, at least those recorded officially, no other animal mascot has ever been afforded such an elaborate funeral.
World War II is long since over, BRNAS and Hedron 12 no longer exists, but in looking back at all the horrors from that war eight-decades ago, the countless lives taken and those forever changed, maybe we can also remember a little dog named Skippy who for about a year brought a measure of joy and comfort to some of those in service of our country.