Tom's Story

On June 24, 2016, our son, Tom, was on leave after completing his first year at the United States Military Academy - West Point. Tom and his buddy, fellow West Point cadet James Crimmins, were on a public beach in Southampton, New York playing games and hanging out with a group of civilian camp counselors they had just met.

Tom and one of the counselors were playing in the surf when they were pulled into the ocean by a riptide. According to media reports, Tom went to the aid of his new friend who was a non-swimmer and was struggling to stay above water, while James raced back up the beach to get help. Tom kept the civilian’s head above water long enough for rescuers to arrive on paddleboards and pull him from the water. The young man survived with no injuries. Sadly, Tom was exhausted from his exertions, from being submerged multiple times in the struggle to keep the civilian afloat and from ingesting a great deal of seawater. Although retrieved within minutes, Tom’s heart stopped three times on the way to the hospital and he slipped into a coma. Tom was a very strong, healthy young man and he fought to hold on for four days. Sadly, after much praying and hoping, Tom was pronounced brain dead on June 28, 2016.

Weeks before the accident, Tom told his buddies, “When I die, I hope it is saving someone’s life.” Tom’s decision to enter the military was based on his sense of selfless service. He had two friends who grew up dreaming of joining the military. Diabetes and Crohn’s disease made their dream impossible. In his admission essay to West Point, Tom wrote, “I want to serve for those who are unable to do so for themselves.”

Tom was kept on life support, as per his wishes, until June 30 when matches were found for his organs. Tom continued to serve others in death as he had in life.

Tom’s heroic actions on June 24  resulted in his being posthumously awarded the Soldier’s Medal; the highest non-combat award for valor in the Army. This award was presented to us at Tom’s funeral which was held on July 4th - what would have been his 19th birthday.. Tom was laid to rest in the West Point cemetery with full military honors.

Tom Surdyke