Thomas W. Pusser
22 Apr 1939 - 22 Oct 1965

Died in Plei Me, Republic of Vietnam
Interred in Chesterfield Cemetery,
Chesterfield, SC

THOMAS WILSON PUSSER was born in Wadesboro, NC, just over the state line from his hometown of Chesterfield, SC. Thomas now rests a few short blocks from the elegant southern home on Main Street in Chesterfield, where he was raised. Chesterfield is a small town that still loves and remembers Thomas and the sacrifice he made while proudly serving his country in South Viet Nam.

Ted and Elizabeth Pusser raised three sons and one daughter. Thomas was the middle son, between Randy and Gerald, and their sister Betsy, was the youngest. Thomas is described by the drug store owner he worked for in high school as the happiest young person I ever knew. A teacher said, I think Thomas had more power of concentration than anyone I ever taught. Nevertheless, there was still plenty of opportunity for mischief in the country surrounding Chesterfield, and Thomas was reportedly involved in a good bit of it.

At Chesterfield High School, Tom lettered in four sports and was described by a teammate as a hard and fair competitor. Tom was the president of his senior class at Chesterfield High and graduated in 1957. A month later, Tom joined the Class of 61. Ted and Elizabeth Pusser traveled to West Point with their son and proudly witnessed the swearing-in ceremony at Trophy Point. The southern gentleman they had raised took his place in the Long Gray Line.

Despite Tom's laid-back manner and easygoing style, he managed to thrive at West Point and, year by year, improve his class standing. Tom was a platoon leader his First Class year and graduated in the top third of the class. He chose the Infantry branch and, after completing Airborne and Ranger training at Ft. Benning and an assignment with the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea, was assigned to U.S. Special Forces.

Tom served as an advisor in South Viet Nam from November 1963 to March 1964 and returned later that same year for a second tour. During a visit home to Chesterfield before his second tour, a family friend asked Tom why he was going back. Tom replied,

"It was hard over there before, and this time it will be harder. But I might as well do it as anybody else. I have no wife or children, and there are wonderful people over there. They don't trust you at first, but once you've won their trust, they will give their lives for you."

As it turned out, Tom heroically gave his life for them.

In October 1965, the Special Forces camp at Plei Me, in the II Corps area, was surrounded and under heavy attack. The following account of this action is extracted in COL Charlie Beckwith s book, Delta Force. The camp was defended by 400 Montagnard tribesmen and their families, a 12-man Green Beret A-Team, and an equal number of Vietnamese. Fifteen American Project Delta troops and two South Viet Nam Ranger companies were dispatched to help defend Plei Me. CPT Thomas Pusser was the advisor to the Ranger companies. The relief effort was commanded by COL Beckwith.

On 21 October, the units landed by helicopter and began moving toward the Plei Me camp. Documents found on a dead enemy body identified the opposing units as North Vietnamese. This was the first proof of NVA troops in South Viet Nam. Project Delta and the Ranger companies maneuvered around the NVA positions and entered the camp at Plei Me on the morning of 22 October.

On the same day, COL Beckwith received an order to send units outside the camp to locate and eliminate the enemy. In Beckwith s words,

"In the afternoon we mounted up both Ranger companies. CPT Thomas Pusser, a West Pointer I thought a lot of, was the adviser to the Vietnamese Rangers."

Beckwith knew it was a dangerous mission and suggested CPT Pusser go with the stronger of the two companies.

"CPT Pusser wanted to go with the weaker company, so he could help get it moving."

The plan was to clear the northern slope from which most of the firing was coming. The NVA waited for both companies to get outside the camp gate and then

"came out of their holes and hit us with everything they had. Fourteen men were killed, including Tom Pusser."

Many others were wounded.

From the intensity of the siege that followed, COL Beckwith estimated there were two or three NVA Regiments involved. The siege got the attention of President Lyndon Johnson who, on 23 October, sent a message to Plei Me,

"We're thinking about you. Hold out as long as you can. God bless you all."

On 24 October, before the siege ended, MAJ Tut, the Vietnamese Ranger commander, insisted that he and his troops exit the camp to recover the body of his friend, CPT Thomas Pusser. They did, and they were successful. After continual air strikes, the siege was broken the next day. Tom, the soft spoken, southern gentleman, was the pride of Chesterfield, an exemplary West Point cadet, and a dedicated and heroic Army officer. He unselfishly gave his life for a cause that he believed in, and was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism.

Tom is buried in the Pusser family plot in the Chesterfield Cemetery. His parents, Ted and Elizabeth, are since deceased. Before their deaths, they were thankful for Tom s friends and classmates who maintained contact with them. Tom is survived by his brothers Randy of Charlotte, NC, and Gerald of Florence, SC and by his sister, Betsy Middleton of Mt. Pleasant, SC.

Rest in peace, Tom. Well done!

A classmate
ASSEMBLY, May/June 1999
 

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