One Year Ago Today
by Janice Surdyke

One year ago today, Tom’s heroic actions earned him The Soldier’s Medal, the US Army’s highest award for valor in a non-combat situation.  He paid for it with his life.

A week earlier, Tom had just completed Air Assault School at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York.  Tom was a leader in finding positive diversions for his fellow trainees during the off-time that the evenings held.  What during the academic term would have been filled with late-night study sessions, Tom and friends filled with movie nights, scooter races, and other frivolity to keep the spirits up of those around him. 


Following graduation from Air Assault School, Tom spent some time in Manhattan with fellow cadets and a group of Chilean Military Academy cadets who had attended the school with him. It was from the Chileans that Tom earned the nickname Big Sexy.  I don’t know the back story of this, but will continue digging for that…


Tom then headed to Southampton, with his best friend James Crimmins, to spend a few days at the beach. 


On their last day of leave, James and Tom headed to nearby Cooper’s Beach.  There they met a group of counselors from a nearby summer camp and quickly became friends.  They were playing around in the water, when one of the counselors and Tom were caught up in a rip current and swept out from the beach. 

Tom was a very good swimmer.  He had repeatedly completed mile long swims in Boy Scouts, and was confident in the water.  He quickly linked up with the other young man, who could not swim, and fought to keep him above water.  James returned to the beach, called 911 and enlisted the aid of a couple paddle boarders to paddle out and assist.

The following is excerpted from Tom’s Soldier’s Medal citation.  Without regard for his own safety, Cadet Surdyke immediately grabbed the civilian and physically assisted in keeping the civilian's head above water until help could arrive. Before becoming overcome by exhaustion, Cadet Surdyke managed to push the civilian up, enabling a bystander on a paddle board to pull him out of the water, thereby saving the civilian's life. Read ArmyTimes Surdyke Soldier's Medal article here.           

 For this reason, Tim, Janice, and daughter Elaine, have displayed a Soldier’s Medal magnet on our vehicles to honor our son’s heroic sacrifice.


The Cadet Thomas Surdyke Memorial Foundation was established to inspire and develop young leaders of character like Tom. Please support our mission at

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