A Hero in 1993
Robert D. Mattson did not seek out danger. But danger seemed to have a way of finding him. A lot of his friends managed to avoid Vietnam. He ended up over there in the Army, smack in the middle of harm's way, came home with a Bronze Star for valor and some memories he would never share, not even with his wife, Elizabeth. "He would just slough it off as not worth talking about whenever I asked," she said.
Then, in 1993, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center the first time, with a truck bomb, Mr. Mattson, a banker with Fiduciary Trust Company International, found himself in harm's way again. One of his co-workers in the stricken tower was eight and a half months pregnant, unable to make her way down 96 flights of stairs to the street after the elevators stopped. He was one of a handful of people who helped carry her up more than a dozen flights to the roof, where a helicopter plucked her to safety.
On Sept. 11, when the trade center was attacked again, Mr. Mattson called Mrs. Mattson on his cellphone a few minutes after the first plane had struck and told her not to worry, he was in no danger, the plane had hit the other tower. But just to be on the safe side, he said, he was leaving his building and, in fact, was already down to the 90th floor.
He was 54 and lived in the Green Pond section of Rockaway Township in New Jersey.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 22, 2001.
Robert Mattson, 54, 'ordinary good guy'
Robert D. Mattson was one of the last people to leave the World Trade Center when it was bombed by terrorists in 1993.
At that time, Mr. Mattson, a decorated Army veteran of Vietnam and longtime banker with Fiduciary Trust Company International, helped rescue a pregnant co-worker before being airlifted to safety from a rooftop.
"He was there in '93 and was the last one out," Mr. Mattson's wife, Elizabeth, recalled. "An employee was 81/2 months pregnant, and he stayed with her. They carried her 16 flights to the roof. They came off the roof in a helicopter."
On Sept. 11, Mr. Mattson, a 54-year-old resident of the Green Pond section of Rockaway Township, was working on the 96th floor of the South Tower when the North Tower was struck by a hijacked plane. He spoke to his wife of 29 years to tell her he was all right and was making his way out of the building.
"He called me and said, 'A plane hit Tower One. It's not my building. I'm all right and I'm on my way out.' He was on the 90th floor," Elizabeth Mattson said.
Then, the second airplane struck Two World Trade Center.
Though she may never know for sure, she has heard that her husband was once again trying to hasten the evacuation of others by "directing traffic" inside the building.
"He was a wonderful husband and a great father. He was just an ordinary good guy," she said.
Employed as a senior vice president for Fiduciary Trust, Mr. Mattson worked for the firm the past 30 years.
Mr. Mattson was born in Brooklyn, attended Cardinal Farley Military Academy in New York and graduated from the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico in 1969.
For his heroism in Vietnam, Mr. Mattson was awarded the Bronze Star.
During the past 21 years, Mr. Mattson lived in Green Pond, where he was a former president of the community's board of directors. He also was a former Little League and basketball coach in Rockaway Township. Mr. Mattson was an avid runner and enjoyed playing tennis and golf.
Along with his wife, Mr. Mattson is survived by a daughter, Jean, 22, and a son, James, 21, both at home; his mother, Marguerite Mattson; and a brother, William Mattson, both of Staten Island, N.Y.
A memorial Mass will be held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Mountain Lakes.
Profile by Jim Lockwood published in THE STAR-LEDGER.