Tom Culp


Cullum No. 24413-1962 | September 11, 1967 | Died in Vietnam

Interment not reported to WPAOG

Thomas Dale Culp, known to all his classmates and military acquaintances as T.D., was cruelly taken from the world on 11 September 1967. He was killed while serving his country in Vietnam, an assignment he had long looked forward to, and an assignment for which he had willingly volunteered. 

T.D.’s life was not a very long one in terms of years, but it was a very full one in terms of the joy and love he brought to those who loved him. When the news of Tom’s death was brought to us, it was with a sad and heavy heart that we approached the next sunrise. Unfortunately I am not a poet or an author accustomed to working with words. I do not feel qualified to write a memorial for a man like Thomas Dale Culp. I can only hope that by telling the story of T.D. as I knew him, I can do justice to his memory and bring a little comfort to those who read this epitaph.

Thomas Dale Culp was born on 11 March 1939, in Massillon City Hospital, Massillon, Ohio. Tom’s parents, Delmar Clyde and Hazel Mary, reared Tom in a good Catholic atmosphere based on love and mutual respect among the family. Being a farm boy, T.D. grew up with all the benefits of the outdoor life. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, and trapping, and T.D. was certainly no stranger to hard work. He grew into the habit of early to bed, early to rise, a habit he was never able to break during his Army career. It always amazed me how T.D. could be so wide awake and cheerful so early in the morning. Even standing on The Plain at West Point in the raw, damp, freezing, morning air could not dampen his spirit at the breakfast table. Of course it was impossible to keep T.D. up to watch the Late Show, and Johnny Carson was wonderful at putting T.D. to sleep.

Tom had two sisters, Judy Kathryn and Jane Ann. Being an only son, he was more or less the king of the farm, reaping all the benefits and this also left him to do all the heavy labor. T.D. spent all his life prior to college in Canal Fulton, Ohio, a short distance from where he was born. He graduated from Northwest High School in May 1957. His activities as a youth were linked to the farm. He raised and sold animals, kept dogs and ponies, and spent as much time as possible out of doors.

Tom was reared as a Roman Catholic and his church, Saints Phillip and James of Canal Fulton, was the rock of his spiritual development. Tom always remained true to the Church and enjoyed attending early Mass.

T.D. progressed easily through high school and in the last half of his senior year started dating Judi L. Moke. Judi and Tom dated steadily during the next year, while T.D. was attending John Carroll University, in Cleveland, Ohio. With the close of that school year came the close of Tom’s life as a civilian.

On 1 July 1958, T.D. and over eight hundred others started in the Class of 1962 at the United States Military Academy. T.D., due to his even personality and good humor, had no trouble with “beast barracks.” Being of small stature, he was at home in “runt land” during the second year of integration, when for the first time sixfooters marched among the “runts.”

When the summer ended and T.D. joined the Corps, he was assigned to A2 Company. It did not take T.D. long to make friends with the upper classmen, and I don’t recall his having much difficulty adjusting to a regimented life. His adjustment to the academic world was a little more difficult. Tom spent many a night down in the stoops, sitting in a shower or throwing a blanket over the window. Life got frantic and sleep got scarce around exam time. However T.D. was quite proud of the fact that, although he went into several WGR’s deficient, he was never turned out and never had to earn his stars.

The highlights of T.D.’s Plebe year were the first Tea Dance, Army/Navy game, and Plebe Christmas, as these were the occasions when Judi came to the Point. During leave between Plebe and Yearling year T.D. and Judi were pinned.

The next three years passed rather quickly for Tom. He worked hard to keep one jump ahead of the Academic Department, and two jumps ahead of the ever present TACs. Tom had plenty of adventures, most of which were mischievous to say the least. As an upper classman he was well known and well liked by all his classmates. T.D. always had some scheme to relieve the monotony, even if it was only going to the gym for a game of handball, a game at which he excelled. Throughout his four years, T.D. was a team man. He loved physical competition and enjoyed especially the intramural program. He was a fireplug, a leader of the company teams.

Because of his enjoyment of the physical outdoor life, T.D. was drawn more and more toward an Infantry career. By the time “Firstie” year rolled around, T.D. was already destined to be Airborne, Ranger, Infantry.

T.D. Culp graduated on 6 June 1962, 598 out of a class of 601. He became Second Lieutenant Thomas Dale Culp, and shortly afterward, on 16 June 1962, Tom and Judi were married. It is a tribute to the real love that T.D. and Judi shared that they did get married after four years of waiting. Not many couples last the duration.

Tom and Judi arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia, in August, and T.D. started jump school immediately. One of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life was T.D., stripped to the waist, gold earring in his ear, and shaven completely bald. “Mr. Clean” was not going to get gigged for having his hair too long!

After IOOC and Ranger, T.D. and Judi went to Fort Campbell and joined the Screaming Eagles. The Culps enjoyed life at Campbell. Life was not all a bed of roses; life never is. However, together they weathered the storms and smoothed out the road. Tom was a good husband and helpful around the house, though occasionally getting under foot.

In 1964, when the Vietnamese War really began to grow, Tom volunteered to do his share. He wanted to go into Special Forces and then to Vietnam. In August 1964, T.D. and Judi left for Fort Bragg. After attending the Special Forces school, January 1965 found the Culps in Monterey, California, at the language school. Vietnamese came easily to T.D., and the year went quickly. In August 1965, Thomas Dale Culp Jr. was born, and what a proud father T.D. wasl I can remember Sundays on the beach and drives around the country with Tom and Judi. Those were truly happy days for Tom.

In December of 1965, Tom graduated from language school and was assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group on Okinawa. Tom thought that Okinawa would be only a stopover point, and that within a few weeks he would be headed for Vietnam. T.D. was more than a little upset when he was told to bring over the family and settle down. The Group sent T.D. on a tour to Thailand from March to September 1966. Finally, in November T.D. received word he was going to Vietnam.

He left Okinawa in January 1967 for Hawaii, left Hawaii 14 February (Valentine’s Day) for Vietnam, arriving in Vietnam and being assigned to a team in Cao Lanh in the Mekong Delta. When Tom left Hawaii, Judi was again pregnant, and on 13 August 1987, Robert Brian Culp was born. Tom was delighted at the birth of his second son. In his letters and tapes home, Judi could feel how proud he really was.

Not much is known about Tom’s tour in Vietnam. It is known he was working on a project with airboats. I know Tom got along well with his counterparts and especially well with the Vietnamese soldiers. T.D. had so much personality and such a good sense of humor, I know he was an instant success.

On 11 September 1967, tragedy struck. Thomas Dale Culp was on an airboat patrol when he was ambushed and killed. Tom was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart; so very little for the life he gave. The world could never pay Tom Culp for his sacrifice. To his friends and fellow officers he gave friendship, loyalty, trust, and a spirit of dedication; to those who served under him, he gave his leadership, understanding, and dedication to look after their welfare; to his family he gave his love; to his country he gave his life. Nothing else can be asked of a man and soldier; nothing but victory and a just peace can be given in return.

As Abraham Lincoln prophesied in his speech at Gettysburg, 19 November 1863, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” May those who knew Thomas Dale Culp take solace in reading this, his story.

FOR ALL HIS FRIENDS—Robert B. Thomas Major Infantry

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