Thomas J. Ward, 96, of New Cumberland, passed away on Sunday, December 19, 2021 in his residence with his loving family at his side. He was retired from the New Cumberland Army Depot, and was formerly a Foreman with Miller & Norford Construction Contractors, Lemoyne. Tom attended Christian Life Assembly, Camp Hill; was a member of the Order of the Purple Heart; and a master craftsman working with wood, stone and small engines. Anyone who needed anything fixed would bring it to Tom. He was born in Lemoyne, the son of the late John C. and Edith (Grey) Ward. He was also preceded in death by a daughter and a son, Jonette Ward and Jeffrey Martin and siblings, Elva, Romaine, Vance, Tennis, Robert, Margaret, Richard and Preston. Tom is survived by his loving wife of more than 43 years, Winifred (Shuff) Ward; children, Thomas J. Ward, Jr. of Coudersport, Barbara Fontaine of Athol, ID, John Ward of Camp Hill, Christine McGee of Harrisburg and Karen Martin of Mechanicsburg; grandchildren, Allen, Thomas, Tony, John, Lainie, Cameron, Jeremy, Joshua, Heather and Taylor; thirteen great grandchildren; and two great-great grandchildren. Funeral services were held on Monday, December 27, 2021 in Parthemore Funeral Home & Cremation Services, New Cumberland.
Born on June 9, 1925 at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Tom enlisted on September 2, 1943 and was assigned to Company I, 23rd Infantry Regiment in the Second U.S. Infantry Division. An Infantry sergeant, Tom was decorated with four Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge and numerous campaign awards, having served in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and Ardennes-Alsace. After his fourth wound, he departed the 2nd Infantry Division in 1945 and reported to the Loire Disciplinary Training Center, where he served as the supply sergeant.
At Le Mans, Tom was John Woods, the U.S. Army hangman in Europe, closest friend, often going downtown in the evening for a beer together, although they never discussed at the pubs what happened inside the center. He recalled that the day before each execution, Woods would walk to the supply room to get the rope and black hood that would be used in the upcoming event; a new rope was used for each hanging, although Woods would use each black hood several times. He also recalled that many of the executions occurred just before noon, when many of the men in the stockade – not involved in the execution – were standing in line outside the mess hall for lunch, and when the trap door opened, the motion was so violent and unique that the loud noise could be heard throughout the DTC and this distinctive sound spoiled many a man’s appetite. Later, Master Sergeant Woods even asked Tom to be his assistant hangman, but the quiet sergeant from Pennsylvania had seen enough death and declined.
Without his help, American Hangman could not have been written. But in addition to his historical knowledge, Tom was one of the most decent human beings I have ever known. A tough soldier, he unleashed hell on a German defensive position after one of his men had been killed in the ongoing combat. And later, Tom once knocked out a fellow American sergeant with one punch for calling him a REMF. But Tom also had compassion for everyone he met in life who had things harder than he did. During the war, Thomas Ward broke regulations and gave army blankets to refugees he met on his supply runs from Le Mans to Le Havre during the cold winter of 1944-45, and seventy years after the war ended, he was still hopeful that they had survived and went on to have a happy life.
Congratulations Sergeant Ward. Yours was a life well-lived.