Jan 29 , 2023
The “best ranger that ever was” - Thomas Gwynn - turned 103 on June 2, the hero of World War II and Korea celebrating his special day with friends and well-wishers at his Tullahoma home.
He has been wounded more than 20 times but he never left the battlefield during his decorated military career. The pain never prevented him from fighting against the enemy.
“When bullets are flying, there is no pain,” Gwynn said of the battlefield, giving praise to God for bringing him home from war where he was conferred the Purple Heart 12 separate times. He was also a prisoner of war but was able to escape.
Amongst Gwynn’s history of heroism was his participation in D-Day, June 6, 1944 – something he has long celebrated as his second birthday, noting it is “because I survived D-Day.”
Gwynn joined the military armed forces in 1940 and became an Army ranger in April 1943. In 1943, Gwynn’s unit was sent to England.
He has taken part in many significant battles, including the Normandy invasion. The Battle of Normandy resulted in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control.
Codenamed Operation Overlord, the fight began on June 6, 1944. On that day, about 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the greatly fortified coast of France’s Normandy region.
By late August 1944, all of northern France had been liberated, and by the following spring, the Allies had defeated the Germans.
Gwynn also took part in the Battle of the Bulge, which took place from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, and was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. He made it to the Elbe River near the end of the war, and that’s where he was on May 8, 1945 – Victory in Europe Day.
While he returned state-side in November 1945, he would return to action a short five years later as in 1950, he joined the fighting in Korea. There, he participated in the Battle of Inchon, a fight in the Korean War that resulted in a decisive victory and strategic reversal in favor of the United Nations Command supporting South Korea.
His bravery earned him multiple awards, including 12 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. He has also earned The Legion of Honour, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits, established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.
On Nov. 7, 2012, Gwynn received a letter from French President Francois Hollande informing Gwynn that he was appointed a chevalier of The Legion of Honour.
The letter revealed Hollande’s high esteem for Gwynn’s merits and accomplishments. The French president expressed gratitude for Gwynn’s contribution in the liberation of France from German occupation.
While the award is typically restricted to French nationals, foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds may receive it. As an American veteran who had participated in D-Day as part of the 1944 campaigns to liberate France, Gwynn was eligible for the award.
Many of his commendations and medals were lost to a fire that consumed his home a few years ago. Some of those have since been replaced.
Just days prior to celebrating his 103rd birthday, Gwynn was in attendance at the Tullahoma Memorial Day observance at the Veterans Memorial Walk at History Park on May 27.