News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY Tom Deemer holds a photograph taken of him in 1960 when he was training troops preparing for duty in Vietnam. The photo was used as a recruiting poster for the Rangers.
click any photo to view this story's photo gallery
published: Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Tom Deemer: a captain for God and country
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Tom Deemer now lives at The Palms. Going on 86 he is frail, shakes with Parkinson's Disease and is confined to a wheelchair.
Once Deemer was a forceful man, not just healthy, but strong and a leader, risking his life in service to his country. He is still the kind of impressive person who awes those who know him, brave despite the ignominy of aging, retaining his dignity, modest about his achievements.
Born in 1929, Deemer was 16 years old in 1945 when he enlisted in the Marines. "My dad was a chief petty officer during World War I," he said, "all I knew were real macho people."
His parents pointed out it might be better for him finish high school, but he would have none of it -- there was a war still going on.
Deemer never served overseas while a Marine. Instead, he cleaned and tested .50-caliber machine guns for men in the field. Disappointed, he said he often wondered, "What am I doing here?"
Discharged in 1946 after 10 months of service he returned to his home town of Miami, remained in the Navy reserves, finished high school and started studies at the University of Miami, where he was a nose guard on the varsity football team.
Leaving college after two years he began work with Swift & Co. selling foodstuffs, like quarters of beef.
In 1950 he was recalled to active duty service, at "the convenience of the government" and re-assigned to the army, entering as a private. Within three months, he was promoted to corporal and months after that promoted to sergeant. Then he was selected for Officer Candidates School.
Training at Fort Benning, he became Ranger qualified and attended leadership school.
Assigned to the 82nd Airborne, he was shipped to Korea in 1951 as a second lieutenant, then promoted to first lieutenant, becoming a company commander. He lead daily patrols, and was awarded a combat infantryman's badge, master parachutist wings, two bronze stars, a silver star and a purple heart.
Asked about combat service in Korea, Deemer's immediate response was, "Hot and cold. It was 100 and something during the summer and like the North Pole in winter. There was a big controversy over (what was nicknamed) the Mickey Mouse boot," he added. "It was supposed to keep your feet warm, but they made your feet sweat, so they froze, and it didn't take long neither."
Returning to Miami in 1953, Deemer joined the National Guard.
Called up once more for active duty service in 1957, again "at the convenience of the government," he was sent to Fort Benning to train troops.
A big shift in combat insertion tactics occurred after Korea. Helicopter design advanced to the point they replaced gliders and cut back on parachuting.
This meant, however, that troops, and those who led them, had to be trained in the new ways. There were no lesson plans on how to go about it, however. Deemer wrote those lesson plans.
He had become an expert in the changes because of his experience and education, having attended advanced infantry schools and been certified as an Air Force combat controller. Called Pathfinders, these controllers went in ahead of a operation to guide the advancing troops.
"He had more experience than anyone in the Army," said his friend, Vietnam vet Jack Turbeville. "You should see all the letters of commendation he received for his work, all excellents and outstandings."
Deemer's work took on critical importance during Vietnam as the war escalated.
At Fort Benning, the Army stepped up troop training in the small team insertion tactics needed for Vietnam using Deemer's plans. His work continued saving lives long after he separated from the service in 1962.
That was not the end of Deemer's contributions to his fellow soldiers. He became a minister after leaving the service.
Settling in Highlands County at Buttonwood Bay, Turbeeville said Deemer founded the church in that community. He also became the chaplain for the Vietnam Veterans of the Heartland and American Legion Post 74.
Vietnam veterans have not been well treated by their fellow citizens, Turbeville said, even by veterans of World War II and Korea, who for the most part don't consider Vietnam a war. This meant Deemer's work as a chaplain has been all the more important.
"He's a captain in God's army now," Turbeville said.
Thomas Arthur Deemer (by: Nance - 7/30/2012)
Excellent , well written story. When he went to OCS he excelled and was 1st in his class for quite a long time. I spoke with the man who ended up Ist and he told me Thomas was still first over him. He said Lt. Deemer excelled in the ability to train his men. In fact, all the men who graduated with him saluted him before anyone else. This group of over 50 men are still in touch with each other. Pastor Tom is the Pastor of this group. Mom was so proud of Tom. She attended his Graduation at Ft. Benning, Ga. Tom is 83 and will be 84, the 23rd of October. I would say he is a General in God's Army today. May he be blessed and continue in his work GOD has called him to do. Blessings
Small Banner Ads