An ailing World War II veteran and POW from Myrick was honored by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith on Friday, just before the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend.
Tom O’Loughlin, 94, was a prisoner of war for more than a year and was later a guard at the Nuremberg Trials, where one of his prisoners was the infamous Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess, deputy fuhrer to Adolph Hitler.
O’Loughlin was in South Central Regional Medical Center dealing with an illness on Friday, said his granddaughter Rebekah Staples of Laurel, who worked in the governor’s office for almost a decade and is the founder of the consulting firm Free State Strategies. “We’re hoping for the best … he’s a fighter,” she said.
O’Loughlin fought in World War II and in Korea, but then he faced another battle when he got home — alcoholism. But he’s been sober for 63 years after getting involved with Alcoholics Anonymous, Staples said, and he has helped countless others in the same struggle.
“Like many members of the Greatest Generation, Tom dedicated himself to serving his community as a sponsor for those facing addiction,” Hyde-Smith said in her comments, which were entered into the Congressional record. “Even now, he calls from his hospital bed to encourage sobriety and offer support to those who still turn to him for help.”
O’Loughlin was born in an Irish-Catholic community in New Jersey, and when he joined the U.S. Army, he was sent to Mississippi to train at Camp Shelby. He was deployed to the European Theater and, in January 1944, he was captured by Axis Forces and held as a POW until March 1945, when Allied Forces liberated Europe.
After the Nuremberg Trials, he served during combat with the 811th Engineer Aviation Battalion assigned to the Fifth Air Force in Korea.
In 1952, he returned to civilian life and made his way back to Mississippi, Hyde-Smith said.
“Keeping his Jersey accent and Irish sparkle, Tom made Mississippi his home and married Rachel Pitts, a Southern belle,” she continued, then “they settled down to Laurel.”
Hyde-Smith made her statement in advance of Memorial Day commemorations, noting that she knows the day is set aside to honor those “who died in the creation of this great nation,” but she explained why she was specifically honoring those who served in World War II.
“There are fewer than half a million of these veterans still living, and we lose more than 300 every day,” she said, adding that she was having a U.S. flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in O’Loughlin’s honor.
“I pray his health returns,” she said, “and I ask we all offer prayers of gratitude for Tom and the other World War II veterans across our country, for they truly are heroes among us.