Thomas McNamara

Thomas McNamara

By Lori Kerns, AFRH-G Librarian  

On June 17, 1935, Thomas Patrick “Tom” McNamara was born in Covington, KY to a telegraph operator for the railroad and a housewife.  He was one of eleven children, unfortunately losing one of his siblings when the baby was only nine hours old.  He described his childhood as a rough start in life.  He moved to the slum area of Cincinnati, OH at the age of one.  His family lived in a three-room, cold-water flat with no heat, no hot water, and no toilet. When asked if he had any hobbies as a child, he said he was a bad little boy and did not have any.  He described how, beginning at the young age of seven, he would go downtown and steal tickets from the USO. Then he would sell these tickets to the servicemen in town to make money.  The upside to hustling these servicemen was that he was able to meet many celebrities that came to town such as the Three Stooges, the Andrews Sisters, and Marcy McGuire.  The downside to this type of misbehavior was that it caught up with him by the time he hit his teen years.  In his words, they tossed him around different schools for “tough boys” until he was old enough to get rid of.  By the time he was about to turn seventeen, his mother knew what the best plan of action was for him.  So the day after his seventeenth birthday, he was on a troop train to Fort Meade, MD.  The year was 1952 and Tom had just enlisted in the Army.

His basic training began in Aberdeen, MD where he stayed for six months in ammunition supply specialist school.  Because he was only seventeen, he was told he would go to Italy instead of being sent to war-torn Korea.  Unfortunately on a day when he was on a sick call, his class disobeyed an order.  Because of their actions, orders were cut by the end of that day for the entire class, including Tom who had not been present, to be sent to Korea with only nine days of travel time.  When he heard the news, he decided to attend a friend’s company party and drank so much that he passed out and was taken to the hospital. He was declared dead from alcohol poisoning.  He woke up in the morgue the next morning with a toe tag on his foot.  He found his clothes, minus his cap, and walked home.  On the walk home, the only concern he had was that he could not find his cap because he knew he would be in trouble.  Unfortunately, this would not be the last time he would have an issue with alcohol.  

Tom took a ship with other troops over to Korea.  He said that he was scared when he got there because the country was completely wiped out and devastated.  He remembered troops from other countries scattered all over the area, which was unexpected for him.  Once in Korea, he was assigned to the 930 Ammo Supply Co. in Hyundai, Korea.  Then he was sent to Red Beach in Incheon, Korea where he stayed until the armistice was signed.  Once the armistice was signed, replacement troops were not allowed to be brought in so he had to stay longer than he expected.  He was allowed to leave in the fall of 1954.  He had a great memory about the ship ride home.  On the ship, he ran into a friend that he had made in basic training.  That friend had been craving a pizza during his entire deployment in Korea.  Since Tom worked in the ship’s bakery, he made a pizza for his friend, and boldly walked past 4500 troops to bring his friend that treat.  The ship landed in San Francisco at Camp Sherman, he took a troop train to Fort Knox, and finished his stay at Fort Hood, TX.  Not too long after, he began to realize that he was not coping well.  So he was treated for shell shock at the Veterans Hospital in Cincinnati for two years.  His treatment was successful.

He began working as a waiter and found his calling in the restaurant business.  But he ran into problems with alcohol again and sought treatment with the VA.  In the midst of working on his budding career and trying to stay sober, he met his wife.  Now that he was married and had a career, he had a reason to stay sober.  He wanted to have children.  He and his wife had two girls and one boy.  Unfortunately his marriage did not last.  As a single father, he raised three children and continued to work around the country in the restaurant industry as a maître d’ sometimes in well-known restaurants like Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, Midnight Sun in Atlanta, and Water Tower Inn in Chicago.  Throughout his twenty-five years in the business he added more celebrities that he met to the list he began as a kid.  He had the honor of meeting such celebrities as Frankie Laine, the Dorsey Brothers, Mel Tormé, General Westmoreland, and even President John F. Kennedy.  After leaving the restaurant business, he began selling and wholesaling cars and doing other odds and ends jobs.       

Tom now enjoys his retired life here at AFRH.  He enjoys visiting his children and grandchildren often.  He is very active in the volunteer program here at the home.  Most of his days are spent volunteering in the library, hosting a movie in the theater, and working in Admin.  He can always be counted on if a shift needs to be covered and he does it with a smile!  When asked what he likes about living at AFRH, Tom wittingly answered, “Can’t afford anything else!”