Here's the short outline. He was raised in a Catholic orphanage. Joined the Army out of high school. Made the Inchon landing as a Pfc. Went all the way to the Yalu River and was part of the retrograde movement after the Chinese attacked. After Korea, he went to college, got an engineering degree, and was commissioned. He did two combat tours in Vietnam, the second with a Special Forces team attached to a South Vietnamese unit. Eventually promoted to Lt. Colonel, he retired out of the 82nd Airborne in the 1970s.
He started a second life, moved to an old farmhouse with a barn, became a high school ROTC instructor. At his church he founded a Boy Scout Troop. Troop 826. I met Tom there. We had been in Cub Scouts first, of course, and when I walked into the first meeting of the year in the fall of 1991, I was in a uniform. He told me later he knew he had someone he could work with that first night.
We built a better Troop together, had some amazing young men come through the program, camped every month. I was his Assistant Scoutmaster for a decade, hence my screen name and email address. When he had a heart attack I became the Scoutmaster for a couple of years, and then the other assistants took turns, and slowly as my boys finished or quit, I moved on.
Sometime in all those meetings, all those camp outs, he and I became friends, then trusted companions. It is unusual to meet someone in your 40s that is a mentor, a friend, that changes you, helps you redefine yourself. Tom was that for me. We stayed in touch after we finished Scouting. I last saw him a few weeks ago.
But I remember as he was in his 70s, vibrant and full of life. Ready to hit a trail with a pack, singing some off-key song from years ago, carrying his gear, and probably the tent of some young Scout that was struggling.
Pick out a trail, Tom. I'll be along soon enough and we can hike into some warm fall afternoon on strong legs and see what's over the next hill.
In my dreams, I'm going back to Gilwell,
To the joys and happiness I found,
On those grand weekends,
With my dear old friends,
And see the training grounds.
--From the musical play, "We Live Forever" by Ralph Reader