Tom Mattis got a phone call Sunday morning from his younger brother. It wasn’t the cheeriest of conversations.
His brother, Jim Mattis, had just learned that President Donald Trump wanted him to leave his post as defense secretary on Jan. 1, rather than continue on until a planned resignation on Feb. 28.
Jim Mattis appeared unruffled by this latest development after the stormy week in Washington, D.C.
“He was very calm about the whole thing. Very matter of fact. No anger, ” Tom Mattis recalled in an interview from his home in Richland. “As I have said many times in other circumstances, Jim knows who he is … many more Americans (now) know his character.”
Tom Mattis is unsure just what will come next for his brother, or when he will return to their hometown of Richland, where they grew up while their father worked at the Hanford nuclear site and where their mother, Lucille Mattis, still resides at the age of 96.
But Tom Mattis is proud of his brother’s decision to tender his letter of resignation last week after Trump made an abrupt decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. That letter, which sent shock waves through Washington, cited his belief that the nation’s strength is “inextricably linked” to alliances and the need to treat allies with respect, and said Trump deserved a defense secretary better aligned with his views.
Tom Mattis is convinced that his brother is not yet ready for a quiet retirement.
“No one should assume that his service to his country will end. And the manner of his departure is yet another service to the nation. It is the very definition of patriotism and integrity,” Tom Mattis told The Seattle Times.
Tom Mattis, like his younger brother, served in the Marine Corps. His six years of service began in 1967 and included a brutal 14-month tour of duty in Vietnam in an artillery battalion while his younger brother Jim was a freshman at Central Washington University.
Tom Mattis said he doesn’t think his choice of military service prompted his brother to enter the Marine Corps Reserve in 1969. Rather, it was their upbringing in a family where the Marines were always held in high regard.
“I think there was no question that, for both of us, when we would come of age we would end up enlisting,” Tom Mattis said.
Tom said both he and his brother embrace the Marine Corps motto — semper fidelis (fi), a Latin phrase that means “always faithful.”
Tom Mattis says that his brother’s loyalty lies with the Constitution and the American people. “Jim will always give his best advice and speak truth to power — regardless of the consequences.”
The two brothers have remained close through the decades.
Jim Mattis served in the Marine Corps for 44 years before retiring as a general in 2013, and took at position as a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution before being tapped after the 2016 election to serve as defense secretary under Trump. He never married.
Tom Mattis worked in Oregon for state government for many years before retiring, eventually moving back to Richland in 2015 to look after their mother.
Tom Mattis said his brother continues to check in on an almost daily basis with their mother, and returns when possible to Richland for visits.
Tom said he last saw his brother in November, when the defense secretary made a brief pre-Thanksgiving Day stopover in Richland that included an appearance at the Chief Joseph Middle School where both brothers went to school.
Tom Mattis said his older brother was never scheduled to come home for the Christmas holidays, and instead hoped to go to the Middle East to visit troops.
That trip now appears to be off, as Jim Mattis prepares to leave the Pentagon, according to Tom Mattis.
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