I love it when history pops up in front of us.

I love it when history pops up in front of us.
When an old World War II Camp Crowder building was demolished at what is now the Neosho Airport, workers discovered and cut out a unique board. Scribbled in pencil were the words:
“John Mattivi
R#2
Mulberry Kans
May 4, 1942”.
The construction of Camp Crowder began even before America entered World War II. But after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the “sleeping Giant” awoke with a fury, construction escalated. All told, more than 1,600 buildings comprised Camp Crowder, which was to become the Midwest US Army Signal Corps Training Center. It eventually took 20,000 men to build them. Among those 20,000 men was John Mattivi of Mulberry, Kan.
Mulberry is in Crawford County, Kansas, about  an hour and 15 minute drive from Neosho, if you heed the speed limit.
In the 1940 census John Mattivi is listed as 41 years of age, living in Crawford County, Kan. and head of a household  that includes a wife, 16 year-old son and 10 year old daughter. He lists his occupation as a Work Projects Administration (WPA) foreman with Read Construction. Ten years before, in the 1930 census, his occupation was coal miner. Mr. Mattivi had seemingly improved his lot in life. He was born in Kansas, though both his parents were born in Austria, according to Mr. Mattivi. There is another Mattivi family who emigrated from Italy in the early 1900s, and one of them includes a John Mattivi from Frontenac, which is also in Crawford County. However, he is almost 20 years older than the other John Mattivi, and he isn't foreman of a construction crew. Actually, he is a coal miner. Just like the other John Mattivi was 10 years before. Given the first John Mattivi's documented connection with construction, I'd say it was he who wrote his name on that board.
Per the 72-year-rule, census records after 1950 can only be obtained by the actual person listed in census or their direct heir. I can't readily tell you what happened to Mr. Mattivi after he helped build Camp Crowder, what he did with the rest of his life, etc. However, what can be told is that the same John Mattivi lived until Oct. 7, 1993. He is buried in Pittsburg, Kan.
We don't know how long John Mattivi was involved in the Camp Crowder project. As a foreman, perhaps he had been there from the beginning. Or maybe his crew came on board later. Camp Crowder was officially dedicated on April 12, 1942, almost a month before Mattivi scratched his name in pencil on a single, 1”x10” board. But buildings continued to go up. The particular building Mattivi's board was part of could have been a motor pool not very far from where the German prisoner of war camps were eventually located, after Camp Crowder took on a dual mission. It has been speculated that German POWs worked in that same building. I'm not sure how anyone could definitely prove that, but it's true that it wasn't that far away from the prisoner camps, and the prisoners did indeed work in the motor pools – if that's what the building was in fact used for.
The construction boom caused by the erection of Camp Crowder was tremendous. Workers flooded into Neosho. The population of Neosho in 1940 was 5,300. Camp Crowder's construction caused that number to nearly quadruple. There were no vacant rooms anywhere. In some cases, workers were actually renting out chicken coops to sleep in. Anything to keep the rain off. Somewhere among them was John Mattivi. He has been dead for more than 20 years now, but the name, address, and date he scribbled down one day on a job site remain.
The traces of our lives outlast us.

Wes Franklin writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.