On May 9, 2013, we lost a Marine, a husband, a father, and a friend. Born in Wisconsin in 1922, Tom joined the Marines in 1942 and retired in 1970. During that time, Tom served five combat tours in three wars and flew over 300 combat missions. Tom was decorated 35 times for combat actions: two Legions of Merit with "V," five Distinguished Flying Crosses, 26 Air Medals, and two Purple Heart
s. In 1964, Tom was the Cunningham Trophy winner as the "Outstanding Marine Aviator of the Year." During Tom's flying career he amassed over 6,000 flight hours. In short, if it had props, jets or rotors, Tom flew it. Tom was a member of the initial class of the Experimental Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Md. In honor for his vast aviation career, Tom was a selected as a member of the Golden Eagles.
In 1971, Tom began his second career as the head of the instructional staff for the University of Oklahoma (OU), providing instructional services at the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Management Training School in Lawton and Norman, Okla. As such, Tom was an adjunct professor at OU and headed a staff of 100 and controlled a multi-million dollar budget. Tom retired from this career in 1987. Upon retirement, Tom was awarded the FAA's highest honor to a non-FAA employee [and the only such award to date].
During Tom's two careers, he accumulated several university degrees; a B.S. in political science from Oklahoma State University; an M.A. in International Affairs from the U.S. Army
War College; and an M.A. in Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma. Additionally, Tom completed numerous non-credit courses in various disciplines.
Tom enjoyed many activities and sports. He was an avid golfer, and played handball, tennis and racquetball for many years. Tom and family lived in the Bluewater Bay and Rocky Bayou areas since 1988.
Tom is survived by his high-school sweetheart, Bette, with whom he shared 71 years of marriage. They have two children, Connie, who retired from the flight industry after some 30-plus years and millions of miles; and Chris, himself a Marine for 20 years and then an attorney. Tom also has four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Tom will be a resident of Heritage Gardens in Niceville. A service is planned for Sept. 18, 2013. To share memories, express condolences and sign the guestbook, please visit www.daviswatkins.com.