Lt. Thomas Weldon Fowler Sr., class of 1943
Medal of Honor recipient
Born Oct. 31, 1921
Killed in action June 3, 1944
Thomas Weldon Fowler was born in October 1921 in Wichita Falls. He was the fourth of five sons who all grew up working on the family farms. Fowler graduated from Wichita High School in 1939. While at Texas A&M, Fowler studied animal husbandry and was in a cavalry unit, according to his Distinguished Alumni profile. He was in the first freshman class to live in the Corps Quadrangle dormitories, built in 1939.
Fowler graduated in February 1943, but was not commissioned because the academic calendar was accelerated to year-round for the duration of World War II. He was drafted into the Army and went to Armor Officer Candidate School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for 13 weeks of basic training. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 1943. Fowler married his high school sweetheart, Anne Oakes, the same month. Their son Thomas W. Fowler Jr. was born in February 1944.
Fowler went overseas to North Africa in October 1943. Fowler and three of his brothers would serve during WWII. The eldest, William, received an exemption to maintain the family farms.
Allied forces wanted to push German lines further inland to capture Rome from Axis control. Troops had tried to advance into Italy for months and Operation Shingle was the Allies' latest strategy. Allied forces landed on the stretch of western Italian beaches in several coastal towns on Jan. 22, 1944, 35 to 40 miles south of Rome.
In February 1944, Fowler was assigned as a replacement officer in the 191st Tank Battalion in the U.S. Fifth Army, and arrived with the unit on the Anzio beachhead the following month. The Allied troops fought against German resistance and counterattacks, and the German troops began to withdraw in May, allowing the Allied forces to push beyond the beachhead into Italy. They would eventually capture Rome in June.
The 191st Tank Battalion was working its way through minefields near Carano, Italy, in the Latina province, in May. Fowler was a liaison officer to a regiment in the 45th Infantry Division. On May 23, 1944, he met up with infantry platoons lacking leadership because the officers had been killed. An enemy minefield also kept the platoons from progressing.
Fowler, a tank officer, took command of the platoons, reorganized them and then personally made his way through the minefield, according to his Medal of Honor citation. "He cleared a path as he went by, lifting antipersonnel mines out of the ground with his hands," according to Texas Aggies Medal of Honor by James R. Woodall. Fowler cleared a 75-yard path, then returned for the platoons and led them through, one squad at a time. He then led the supporting tanks through the minefield to positions where they could better support the infantry.
He scouted ahead another 300 yards with the infantry behind him and found several enemy soldiers hiding in foxholes. Fowler was able to take the soldiers by surprise and take them prisoner. The joint infantry and tank advance continued, and met mortar and small arms fire, according to the medal citation. Enemy tanks fired their cannons, setting one of the Allied tanks on fire.
"With utter disregard for his own life, with shells bursting near him, he ran directly into the enemy tank fire to reach the burning vehicle … saving the lives of the wounded tank crew," according to the medal citation. Fowler later provided first-aid care to nine wounded infantrymen while still under enemy fire.
Fowler was awarded the Medal of Honor for his "courage, his ability to estimate the situation and to recognize his full responsibility as an officer in the Army of the United States, exemplify the high traditions of the military service," according to the citation.
Ten days later, on June 3, Fowler was commanding a tank platoon supporting the 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Division. While the rest of the platoon was positioned and obscured from sight on one side of a hill, Germans with tanks and guns were positioned on the other. Fowler boarded a tank to scout ahead. The tank was hit with an explosive, but it was not disabled. The driver began returning the tank to the platoon. When the tank reached the hill's crest, Fowler opened the turret hatch and stuck his head out, according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor. He was immediately shot by a sniper and died.
Fowler's award was presented to his wife Anne and his son at Fort Sill, Okla., on Nov. 11, 1944.
Honoring an Aggie
Fowler's body was buried at an American military cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, east of Anzio. His remains were exhumed after the war in 1948, and shipped to the United States in late June on the USAT Carroll Victory, according to Texas Aggies Medals of Honor. Fowler's remains were transported by train from New York to his hometown Wichita Falls, and arrived July 26. The next day he was buried with military honors in the Crestview Memorial Park.
Wichita Falls honored the hometown hero by naming its American Legion Post 169 for him. In 1962, an elementary school in Wichita Falls was named in his honor.
A dorm on the north side of the Texas A&M campus was built in 1964 and named in Fowler's honor. Today, the coed dorm houses approximately 250 students. It is adjoined to Hughes Hall in the Fowler-Hughes-Keathley complex. All three are named for Medal of Honor recipients: Fowler, Lloyd Hughes and George Keathley.
In November 2009, Fowler's Medal of Honor and other military awards were put on display at the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center. There is also a bronze plaque of his military portrait. An artist's rendering of his military portrait is accompanied with his citation. A reproduction of an Army Medal of Honor is part of the Hall of Honor exhibit at the Memorial Student Center.
-- Compiled by Claire Heathman