Tom Lines

Legionnaire of the Month

The Vietnam Vet we want to recognize is Thomas Lines. Unfortunately, I did not learn that Tom was in Vietnam until his battle with cancer had already taken a toll. Although Tom recalled many items, the pain medication he needed to take had taken a toll on his usual sharp memory. The first thing I assure individuals that I interview is that they will have “final editing authority”. Tom is the 2nd person who has passed on before we were able to publish his story. It is not surprising to me that Tom was like all the other Vets I’ve talked to. Not a single one has ever come to me and said---I have a story that should be told. Tom, like others, was modest, did not want to ‘brag’ or come forward on his own. So I again request if anyone knows of someone from Post 23 who might have a story that should be told, please let me know.

Thanks to the help of Tom’s family, we do have Tom’s story to tell. I especially commend John who had taken the time to write down and make a record of the things his dad had told about his military experience. So with that introduction, let’s proceed with Tom’s story.

Tom was born to John and Shirley Lines, August 1, 1949 in Brainerd, Minnesota. He grew up on a farm in rural Cottonwood, MN with his siblings; RuthAnn (James) Schultz, Paul (Anita) Lines and Virginia (John) Clementson. He graduated from Cottonwood High School in the spring of 1967 and then went on to study at the University of Minnesota, prior to being drafted by the Army on March 25, 1969. He served in the Vietnam War and then was ordered to spend the rest of his enlistment in Germany, where he met best friend and love of his life, Mary Kyoko Wilson.

My Vietnam Voyage and Beyond

By Thomas George Lines

The following is an account of Tom Lines’ Vietnam story – as told by him on September 9th, 2016.

“I was drafted on March 25, 1969. From there, I reported to Fort Snelling in Saint Paul, MN and got ready to go to Fort Campbell, KY on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Prior to my arrival at Fort Campbell, President Eisenhower passed away – thus causing those in-process with me, to also be issued rain gear in addition to the other basic items you are issued at this time. We were only there 5 days but because of the passing of the President, one day we did have to stand in Parade for 2-3 hours in a downpour, although admittedly this did seem like an eternity.

In addition, during your Processing-In Period, you are required to take a standard Aptitude Test [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)]. When I was finished someone overseeing the test made the comment to me, “You screwed up!” I replied, “What do you mean?!” He smiled and said back, “You missed a question.” To this day, I don’t recall the question, but I remember the smile along with the comment about missing a single question.

In 1969 this test was simply referred to as the “GT” and if you scored 136 or higher before 1978, Mensa actually accepted this as proof of being in the 98th Percentile.

After my test results were reviewed I was approached and asked if I’d like to re-enlist. This meant I was being offered an additional year of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) instead of the normal period thus delaying my deployment to Vietnam. After completion of Basic Training I was selected to receive training in 31L – Radio Relay & Carrier Repair – which was also being taught at Fort Campbell. So in all I spent a full year there while learning what would ultimately be a career defining endeavor many years later.

Once my schooling had been completed my orders read to report to Vietnam, specifically An Khe where I assimilated into the role of Radio Relay & Carrier Repair for a period of 9 months. This role essentially refers to the method of transmitting radio signals. This included sending or receiving fragmented segments of radio communication.

Most Veterans you speak to probably didn’t like the work they performed or were tasked with while serving in Vietnam during their Tour of Duty, but I actually liked working in the 1st Signal Brigade. During my Tour we didn’t experience many casualties but the one we did lose, Bentley Thomas Davis (Bentley T) does come to mind as I regarded him as my best friend while in the service and had the unfortunate duty to identify his remains upon his death. Sadly, it wasn’t combat related, as it was a truck accident that ultimately took his life.

I was close to being the 2nd casualty at one point but thankfully the Army issued helmet stopped the round which directly struck my helmet one night while being on Guard Duty. Needless to say it wasn’t very cool and scared the hell out of me!

After 9 months I was ordered to Kun Tom, Vietnam. While here my job was to run a Military Affiliation Radio System (MARS) Station. I viewed this as the bottom feeder of military communications at that time. MARS has a Military and Civilian function.

I was the MARS facilitator every night for 3 months straight. I was more-less using my station as a Civilian function for those in Tour trying to connect with loved ones back home. The work wasn’t hard by any means – but it was very rewarding to connect families.

After serving roughly 1 year in Vietnam I was shipped home for leave in the summer of 1971 and once my leave concluded I was then ordered to Pirmasens, Germany – which was at the time an Army Depot housing acres and acres of “stuff”. The beauty of base was the specialized and controlled environments for all the equipment I specifically worked on and the other equipment – ready to roll being already fueled and armed. While stationed there I lived downtown across the street from the famed Parkbrau Brewery on the 1st level of an apartment complex.

Today, this area is known as a bustling, modern town located to the famed Wine Road as the area has many beautiful vineyards and farmlands. Speaking of beautiful, during my 9 months stationed here, I happened to meet my wonderful wife, Mary K. We were married on March 31, 1972 in Fort Huachuca, Arizona and eventually made our home in Cottonwood, MN.

I attended Southwest State University and graduated in 1976 with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Technology. After graduating, we moved to Garretson, SD to be near my job in Sioux Falls. I worked at Sencore and Gateway Computers before ultimately working at EROS Data Center as a Sr. Software Engineer for the last 19 years.”

On October 7th, 2016; Thomas George Lines passed away from complications arising from his lung cancer after being diagnosed in October 2015.

Tom was very involved in the community and served many roles, including Garretson City Council, American Legion and an active EMT with the Garretson Ambulance for over 30 years. He was also very involved at the district and state level EMS, where he served as president and vice president for District. Tom was honored to be awarded 2016 EMT of the year for District 2 and the State of South Dakota, which was awarded early because of his health.

Thomas is survived by his loving wife, Mary, and children Heather (Paul) Welbig, Jennifer Lines and John Paul (Amy) Lines. Siblings RuthAnn (James) Schultz, Paul (Anita) Lines and Virginia (John) Clementson. Lovely Grandchildren Mataya Lines, Kyrah Welbig, Kelsi Welbig and Baby Lines 2017, as well as many cousins, nieces and nephews.

On behalf of the American Legion and the Garretson community we want to extend our thanks to Tom. We also want to thank Mary, Heather, Jennifer and John for sharing Tom with us. His dedication to the Community, State and Nation was very evident and greatly appreciated. Tom was a long standing member of Henry G. Fix Post 23. This year would have been 35 years of continuous membership.


Marty Luebke

Post 23 Member