Thomas W. Pusser
22 Apr 1939 - 22 Oct 1965
Died in Plei Me, Republic of Vietnam
Interred in Chesterfield Cemetery,
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
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
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
"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
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!
ASSEMBLY, May/June 1999