The landing in Normandy is one of the major events of the Second World War. On this turning point in WWII we look at a rather unknown life story of Pande Matevski from Bitola, who died on the historic D-Day battlefield.
Pande Matevski (1914-1944) from Bitola, the only Macedonian known to have died in Normandy during World War II, left his homeland with his father and brothers due to the frequent military conflicts that took place in the devastated countries in the Balkans in the first decades of the last century.
They went to distant America to earn their living in peace. But there was still a war ongoing. And separated from Europe by the ocean, they did not escape the Macedonian fate to fight for a foreign army.
Bitola citizen Silvana Petrova Nasuh emotionally tells a life story about the “American nephew of Bitola”, Matevski, in the documentary dedicated to him named “Soldier Ryan from Bitola” by TV Orbis, of which she is also the screenwriter.
The documentary was shot on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Landing Forces and is still the only surviving video material about the sad life story of the US soldier Matevski.
The secret of Pande Matevski revealed
“As a girl I lived on Maxim Gorki Street in Bitola. There was an abandoned house across from our building. We gathered and played in front of it because there was no homeowner who could be disturbed by the noise. We always wondered whose house it was. When I was browsing the history of the city for my new collection of poems, I found that this is the house of soldier Matevski,” says Petrova Nasuh.
Some years ago, few in Bitola knew more details about the life of Bitola emigrants and soldiers in the US Army. Only his grave in the Bukovo cemetery, which is otherwise unique in Bitola, and the tin coffin in it, bear witness to the fact that he died at the front when he was 30 years old. The inscription “Fallen in Normandy as an American sergeant in July 1944” is engraved on the gravestone.
D-day, as the Battle of Normandy is known in history (June 6 – August 21, 1944), was the largest military invasion in human history through the Canal in occupied France during World War II. One of the key battles that led to the surrender of the Third Reich nine months later.
Matevski was among the first civilians mobilized in the United States
The Office for Decentralized Cooperation of Lower Normandy in Macedonia, Association of Local Democracy Agencies – ALDA from Skopje, carried out field research and uncovered the life story of the Matevski family.
According to the research, the father Kosta Matevski was a shoemaker and had a shop in the old Bitola bazaar, and mother Fotina was a housewife.
They had six children, four of whom were sons and two daughters. The oldest was Erefili, born in 1912, and then Petar, Pande, Aleksandar, Anastas and the youngest sister Marijanti were born. The father fled poverty and the wars that devastated the Balkans and went to America.
Pande was killed in action, his brother was badly wounded
It is known that Pande and his older brother Peter were mobilized by the US military. According to the US military files provided by ALDA, Pande lived in Chicago, Illinois.
He was mobilized at the beginning of the war on May 13, 1941. He was probably registered under the name Pande Matevik of Chicago, Illinois, since Vardar-Macedonia was under Serbian rule at the time. Yugoslavia was also recorded as his country of origin in the documents.
In the file, he writes that he had only graduated from high school for two years and was a skilled worker in mechanical metalworking.
Furthermore, it was revealed that during the war, up to the landing in Normandy, he succeeded in becoming a non-commissioned officer in the US military. How it came to this advancement in the career, what performance of the soldier Matevski was rewarded with it is unfortunately not known.
The files show that he and his older brother Petar were involved in the Normandy landing from the start.
They were among 156,000 Allied troops who landed in Normandy. Pande survived at the front for a month and then died in the bloody fighting. His brother Petar was badly wounded but survived the landing. Together with the remains of Pande, he returned to Illinois, Chicago, and buried him there.
His mother later buried him in Bitola
The news of her son’s death shocked his mother Fotina, who lived in Macedonia. Nada Matevska, the daughter-in-law of Pande’s youngest brother Anastas, who now lives in Skopje, reported about her fate.
“I lived together with my mother-in-law, the mother of Pande Matevski, under one roof in Skopje. When I married into this family, Pande was already dead, I never got to know him. But she was so sad. She was traveling to Chicago and with the help of the other two sons who lived there, she managed to obtain permission from the US authorities to excavate the body of the deceased son and transfer his remains to Macedonia“, reports Nada Matevska.
Pande’s body was shipped across the ocean in a tin coffin to his hometown of Bitola. Such a procedure was very expensive at the time, but the brothers did not save costs. The remains were transferred in the 1950s and buried in Bitola.
“Oh, what fate awaited poor Fotina. She sent her son with a small suitcase and greeted him in a large coffin” – we can hear in the documentary about the fallen Bitola soldier.
After this suffering, Fotina, as a mother, left one last request when she closed her eyes that she should be buried next to her son.
“When she died in the 1960s, her last wish to rest with her son Pande was granted. The two were buried in a grave and the tin coffin was placed over the graves,” explains Nada.
The family has no living descendants in Bitola today. Pande’s brothers and sisters have passed away and their children and grandchildren are scattered around the world, in America, Australia, and in Macedonia they live in Skopje and Gostivar.
Sasha Uzunov: No credit for my research
After the story about Pande Matevski became public in the Macedonian media via ALDA and was sold as a big story by daily newspapers, the Australian journalist of Macedonian descent Sasha Uzunov accuses: I don’t got any credit for solving the mystery of Pande Matevski.
Uzunov writes on his blog: Dnevnik reporter Zaneta Zdravkovska gives no credit for having found out that he served in the US Army under the name Panta Matevich and that his rank was Private First Class and not Petty Officer as claimed.
According to Uzunov, the journalist made several mistakes in the article: “Dnevnik’s article repeatedly repeats the mistake that he was an Airbourne. However, he served in the infantry. Dnevnik’s article repeatedly repeats the mistake, that Pande Matevski was a “Junior Officer”.” writes Uzunov and becomes more detailed:
“Dnevnik’s original April 8, 2014 article publicizing this story failed to understand why Matevski’s name was not on US military records. Here we solved the puzzle by looking at US immigration records. and went through army records and uncovered Matevski’s family: his sister Kalopia Tasseff, his brother Petar, his father and mother. As Uzunov writes: According to US military records. Matevski was enlisted as a Private First Class named as Panta Matevich, born 1914. Enlisted in the US Army from Cook County, Chicago Ilinois, US. His Army ID number is 36032731.
After solving this puzzle, on May 27, 2014, Zdravkovska quoted an organization based in Skopje entitled “Program for Cooperation between the Lower Normandy Region and the Republic of Macedonia” with the answers … This organization has financially supported the local TV station Orbis in Bitola to make a short documentary about Private Matevski. We were not contacted by any of the three parties.” accuses Uzunov.
Matevski did not take part in the initial landings on 6 June 1944 known as D-Day but arrived a month later and took part in what was known as the Normandy breakout, the brutal battle to push the Germans from the beaches of Normandy into German territory. His unit of the US Army, the 28th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, was known as the Pathfinders and Blacklions.
PFC Matevski was killed in action on the 4th of July 1944 – the American independence day – on the beaches of Normandy during the Normandy breakout. His unit landed on July 4, 1944 at Utah Beach, one of the original landing sites of the allies on D-Day 6 June 1944.
We salute his bravery and ultimate sacrifice.