Tom McMahan


Cullum No. 24162-1962 | September 28, 1965 | Died in Vietnam

Interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA

Captain Thomas E. McMahan Jr., was killed in action while serving as an advisor to the Republic of Vietnam 33d Ranger Battalion. He gave his life after voluntarily extending his tour in order to serve with a Ranger unit. In recognition of his sacrifice, the Vietnamese Government presented him the National Order Medal Fifth Class and the Cross of Gallantry.

In every connotation, Tom was truly an Infantryman, personally proud of his branch. Since boyhood, Tom’s one goal in life had been to attend West Point and graduate as an Infantry officer. Paramount in his mind was the mental and physical preparation for what he knew to be a tough and demanding career. For this very reason, Tom was to be found at the gymnasium in every spare moment. He continually strived to improve his physical condition, even when he was on leave. To Tom, leave meant early morning runs and exercises. As his stamina developed to its peak, he was recognized as a man in the very best of physical condition.

In the eyes of his classmates, Tom easily fulfilled the demanding requirements of Airborne and Ranger training at Fort Benning. However, few realized his fear of heights, which he had to overcome in order to be a wellqualified Infantryman. He overcame this fear through his determination to wear the coveted Airborne Wings and Ranger Tab. Tom’s determination to be a well qualified Infantryman was reflected during his final patrol at the Mountain Ranger Camp in Dahlonega, Georgia. While on that patrol, Tom received lacerations about the eyes from a branch that hit him in the face when unknowingly released by the man in front of him. Eventually, the swelling forced his eyes closed, temporarily blinding him. Realising Tom’s sincere desire to continue, his classmates led him by a rope. He remained blinded for three days, until the patrol was completed.

Aware of the need for advisors in Vietnam, Tom volunteered for service there in 1964. However, his ambition to be an advisor to an Infantry battalion was not to be immediately realized; he was assigned as a Psychological Operations Officer. Though he was often exposed to fire and involved in very important work, he did not feel that he was contributing to the war effort as a trained Infantryman. Eventually, he was able to arrange a transfer to a Republic of Vietnam Infantry battalion. With the end of his one year tour in sight Tom knew he had yet to fulfill all his goals, in his heart he felt that call to the professional soldier, the call to adventure and duty which is heard only by a soldier. Consequently, he extended his tour for six months in order to go to battle beside the Republic of Vietnam 33d Ranger Battalion. While advising this unit, he was mortally wounded.

On the class rings of all West Point graduates is the renowned motto, ‘‘Duty, Honor, Country.” To those who were close to Tom, it was evident that he lived by that motto every day of his life. His sincere honesty and desire for truth inspired all who knew him. His absolute dedication to the West Point motto was never to be taken lightly. His example is something for all of us to follow in our careers, whether they be military or civilian.

Tom McMahan has set an example for all professional soldiers to follow; he has thus accomplished an important mission during his very short life. His mission accomplished, he has heard his last Taps and now truly “Sitteth on the right hand of God.”

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