A True Metalworking Hero

Step up when needed and win. Then lead a good life. These are lessons that are trans-generational.

In late February, my family and I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the interment ceremony of my father-in-law, Tom Magee, at Arlington National Cemetery. It was held with full military honors as a testament to Tom’s heroic service during World War II. He was 93 when he passed. 

Tom’s working life was spent at Cincinnati Milacron where he eventually became superintendent of the company’s metals fabrication division. At its height, almost 1,000 people were employed in the foundry and adjacent sheet metal shop. He put in 46 years there, which wasn’t uncommon in those days. 

In the late 1970s, I became one of those employees and started my metalworking career in time and methods study in the foundry. Tom gave me a shot, and it took. Eventually, I married his daughter and you can imagine the grief I took from co-workers about that. My marriage also took, as my wife and I will celebrate 35 years together this fall. 

Tom was a metalworker, a foundry man and proud of it. He had a mastery of people skills, and those who worked for him, worked for him first and the company second. It was a great education for a young, wet-behind-the-ears person like me. As my ears dried, I’ve tried to exercise those lessons of how to treat people in my career.  

But Tom had quite a career before he got into metalworking. As an engineering student at the University of Cincinnati, he went into the Army Air Corps as a bombardier in 1944 with the rank of second lieutenant. It was this fateful decision that led my family and my wife’s extended family to be in Washington at Arlington National Cemetary in 2014. 
Tom was part of a B-24 squadron stationed in Italy. On a bombing run on a Nazi synthetic-oil refinery near Blechammer, Poland, the plane was crossing over Yugoslavia where it was hit and disabled by anti-aircraft fire.

The crew, including Tom, bailed out of the disabled B-24 and found themselves wandering around the Yugoslavian countryside for several weeks. They were behind enemy lines and stayed together until a group of partisans found them and helped them get back to the Americans in Italy. 

Before he shipped out, Tom married his sweetheart, Sue. She eventually became mother to my wife and her seven siblings. She was also on the receiving end of a dreaded telegram that began “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your husband has been reported missing over Yugoslavia.” Not something a new bride wants to hear, but still it offered a glimmer of hope. Missing was better than the alternative. 

After 6 agonizing days, a second telegraph was delivered, informing Sue that Tom was safe and had returned to duty. Now that was a good day. 

Tom hung onto the silk parachute that saved his life and carried it back to his base. He then packaged it up and mailed it home to his wife. Sue had her sister make a baptismal gown from the silk material, and it has become a family heirloom. To date, more than 60 of my father-in-law’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have worn that lucky gown. When Wright Patterson Air Force Base heard about the gown from an article in the local paper, they asked to display it in the Dayton, Ohio, museum. However, since the gown is still being used in the family, and probably will for some time to come, it looks like Wright Pat will have to wait.  

Among his decorations for service during the war, Tom was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Presidential Unit Citations. Not too shabby. These are among the reasons his application to be buried at Arlington was accepted. Most of his large, extended family was present to see Tom and Sue interred. 

Like so many from Tom Brokaw’s greatest generation, there are more to these men than the war. Tom had a great career in metalworking, raised a fine family, participated in his community and set an example for others. His son told me he rarely talked about his wartime experiences, and neither did my father. But you just knew at these men’s core, those experiences were seminal. 

Men like Tom represent the best of America’s citizen soldier concept: Step up when needed and win. Then lead a good life. These are lessons that are trans-generational.