Losing one’s home and possessions in a house fire is tragic, yet those things can be replaced simply enough.
Losing a lifetime’s worth of military awards, however, is a bit tougher.
Thomas E. Gwynn, 98, a 48-year Tullahoma resident and a World War II and Korean War veteran, lost a majority of his medals and honors in a house fire in 2013. He has spent the last four years trying to recoup his extensive collection of military honors since they were destroyed in a fire that claimed his home at 114 Ragan St.
Among those honors lost in 2013 are multiple Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Bronze Star, the Combat Badge, the Prisoner of War Medal and the Distinguished Service Cross, and many others.
According to Rob Norman, a friend of Gwynn’s, some of the medals lost in the fire have been reissued, but the process is made more difficult due to a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in Overland, Missouri, in 1973.
The fire destroyed 80 percent of records for U.S. Army personnel, including Gwynn’s records.
According to Norman, being without the complete records has complicated the process of getting medals to those who earned them, but Gwynn has been able to recoup over 40 of his lost military awards.
During the Monday, Sept. 11 meeting of the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Alderman, Gwynn was able to publicly receive another of his lost medals, thanks to Norman.
Norman presented Gwynn with a commemorative medal created by the Regional Council of Lower Normandy “to honor veterans of Operation Overlord,” which was the code name for the Allied invasion of Normandy Beach, or D-Day.
“The medals were originally awarded in June of 1994,” Norman said.
Gwynn’s military service
Gwynn joined the Army based on a coin toss of a “two-headed” coin.
He was selected to become an Army Ranger in April of 1942 in Camp Blanding, Florida. He soon was promoted to staff sergeant and became part of the 117th Infantry.
In December of 1943 Gwynn’s unit was sent to England, and he participated in the Normandy invasion in 1944.
Gwynn received numerous promotions during his military career, including a highly regarded battlefield commission to second lieutenant in 1944.
In addition to his participation in the D-Day invasion, Gwynn also participated in the Battle of the Bulge during his first tour of duty.
Gwynn also served in the Korean War in 1950, where he was twice captured by enemy forces.
Both times he managed to escape capture of his own merit.
During his two military campaigns, Gwynn was wounded a total of 24 times, more than any other officer in the war.
Over his military career, Gwynn received a total of seven Purple Hearts, the Silver Star with Two Clusters, the Presidential Unit Citation with Three Clusters, the Bronze Star with Three Clusters, the Combat Badge, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Distinguished Service Cross and many other commemorations for his brave deeds and service to his country.
He also recently received the French National Order of the Legion of Honor, the highest order of merit the French government may bestow for military and civil merits.
Gwynn is a Chevalier (Knight) in the Order.
Erin McCullough may be reached by email at email@example.com.