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Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Hero Recognized

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

(Photo)
Thorpe, sitting in front of some of his medals, which are hanging on the wall behind him.

It's said that every town has a couple of heroes, and Brazil is certainly no exception.

Sometimes, however, nobody truly knows of a person's trials and tribulations until long after they've transpired. Such was the case for Thomas G. Thorpe.

Cheri Black, a Brazil native, came into possession of a chest owned by Thorpe, her brother, shortly after his death in 2001. While she knew he served two tours of duty in Vietnam, she had no idea of the scope of his actions until she read some of the documents put away in the container.

"He didn't like to talk about what he did in Vietnam," Black said. "He even had flashbacks about the stuff he went through down there."

She was aware of his various medals and commendations, though the actions behind them were new to her.

"I have all kinds of pictures of his tours," she said. "The helicopters he flew, the places he'd been. He told me that a lot of the pictures were confiscated by the government because they didn't want us to see what the soldiers and sailors did there."

Thorpe served two tours in Vietnam, operating medical helicopters from both the pilot and gunner seats. He was awarded 19 medals in these tours, receiving, among other awards, two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, and three Air Medals.

"I don't know how he got one of the Purple Hearts," she said, "but his other one is on a document."

According to the report, Thorpe was firing a machine gun from a grounded helicopter when a bullet jammed in the weapon's chamber. Ignoring his own safety, he put one hand on the barrel of the gun, severely burning his hand in the process. He then removed the bullet and reloaded the weapon, returning fire.

For one of his Bronze Stars, Thorpe assisted a pilot who made a forced landing in an "insecure" rice paddy, according to one of Black's documents. Ignoring fire from no less than 14 enemies, Thorpe and his crew extracted the soldier from his helicopter and returned him to theirs.

"Their actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon themselves, their unit, and the United States Army," the document said.

"I didn't realize all of his awards, the things he'd done and the things he'd went through while he was in Vietnam," Black said.

Black had some trouble estimating her brother's age when he joined the military, but comparing paperwork leads her to believe that he was about 18.

"Our father and Thomas got into a fight," she said. "After that he went and got a job, kept it for maybe a year, and left for the military.

"He had kind of a rough life before that, though," she continued. "He fell in with kind of a bad crowd. He wasn't into drugs or anything like that, but it was just tough for him at times. He went through a lot of things before he went into the service."

Black says that his time after Vietnam wasn't the best, either. Besides battling with bouts of depression, Thorpe took some heat nearly the second he returned to the states.

"People spit on him and threw tomatoes at him when he got off the plane," she said. "That happened to a lot of veterans."

He joined the Army as a weapons specialist. His mission in Vietnam was to fly his helicopter to areas where wounded or stranded soldiers were and extract them to safety. According to a document sent to local papers, he was "responsible for many human lives."

Though she doesn't know if he was contractually obligated to a second term or he decided to go back again of his own free will, Black assumes Thorpe wanted to go back the second time.

"I think he wanted to make a career out of it, but something changed his mind," she said.

She said that his awards speak volumes of his work in Vietnam, adding that he had "about two of everything" as far as his medals went.

He was honorably discharged from the Army in Sept. of 1972. He moved to Florida in 1987, shortly after getting married, according to Black. His daughter, Ida Thorpe, still lives in Florida, near Melbourne.

Thorpe died in Florida in May of 2001. Black said the cause of death was "little more than depression."

"He survived all that in Vietnam and died of that," she said.

She continued, saying that Thorpe requested that he be buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Black said that she plans to display her brother's legacy, especially the two cases of medals, pinned proudly behind a frame. She also inherited a collection of loose medals and an abundance of paperwork pertaining to Thorpe's time in the military.

"I didn't realize how important he was there until I read those papers," she said. "I really didn't."



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