Name : Thomas C Helgeson
Lt. Col Rank : Lt. Col
Regimenr 504th PIR (B)
Division : 82nd Airborne Division
Entered Service from : Ripon, Wisconsin
Date of Birth : 10 June 1919
Date of Death : 26 October 2004
Years of Service : 1937 - 1964
Awards : Silver Star
Bronze Star (2)
Purple Heart (3)
Expert Marksman s.arms
Four Jump Clusters

Tom Helgeson's story told by his daughter ...

Thomas C. Helgeson was born in Livingston, Montana, son of Clifford and Jane Helgeson of Ripon, Wisconsin. He had one sister, Esther Helgeson Huibregtse, of Ripon. Their parents lived in Montana with Jane's mother and stepfather, who was a cattle rancher. They worked on the ranch there until the Great Depression, when they moved east to Indiana and eventually to Ripon around 1930-31.

Main Street Livingston, Montana 1929

Tom attended his junior and senior high school in Ripon, where he was accomplished in both academics and athletics. He served as a class officer and was voted as "most likely to succeed" at the graduation awards. Many of his Ripon School and his National Guard friends recounted that he was a natural leader.

Ripon High School (built in 1919)

In February of 1937, while they were still in high school, Tom and many other Ripon boys enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard. These young men were all from normal homes, although it was during hard times. They were eager to make a little extra money for their families. They had a special unit leader named Michael F. Ustruck, an Army veteran who was a Ripon native. Tom always said that Sergeant Ustruck trained him well enough to keep him alive during the war. In Tom's words, "I loved Michael F. He was opinionated, stubborn, fearless, and a natural leader. He taught young enlisteds to grow up. He was a walking encyclopedia of military history and disciplines. He was the soldier's soldier. Of all the officers that I knew during World War II, he was by far the most professional." After high school Tom went to University of Wisconsin, where he took pre-medical courses. While there he remained active in the National Guard.

Tom in the Wisconsin National Guard (1940)

Many of Ripon's young National Guardsmen went to Camp Beauregard in 1940, where they were trained before the beginning of World War II. It was in 1940 that he became part of the Regular Army. In Tom's words, "Camp Beauregard was a wilderness of red clay, jack pine, and coral snakes. Out of the wilderness we built (usually in rain and red mud) a tent city with Sibley stoves, drill fields, paths and roads."

Camp Beauregard, Louisiana

After completing Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, Tom was commissioned in 1942. He describes the wartime training system in these words, "Officer Candidate School was hell to me. Fort Benning Airborne School was much worse, if that is possible."

Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning

One month of such physical and mental intensity that only God or madmen could stand up to. Run, run, run, run, run, pushups, pushups, pushups, pushups unendingly. When we finished OCS, we could run six or seven miles easily; walk 25 miles at 3-1/2 miles per hour; execute 75 pushups in 80 seconds. When we finished Airborne School we could run 25 miles! We could do 150 pushups! We could do the above and then do ten pushups with one arm without a bead of perspiration. After 150 pushups, our sadistic instructors would require 12 chinups-the proper way. Our instructor stood in the middle of Pope Field, with a megaphone, and counted cadence as we ran the 1/1/2 miles in ankle-deep sand, around the airfield perimeter. He never moved three feet as we ran 1/1/2 miles each round for 8 or 10 rounds! We performed these feats on nerve after our physical endurance ran out." Under his breath, each man repeated time and again that the sergeant was NOT going to make him drop out. Their stomach muscles were so hard they did an exercise where they alternately hit one another in the stomach to see if they could bring the other guy to his knees.

Tom in Camp Lejeune - 1940

Tom completed Ranger training at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg and was assigned as a 2nd Lieutenant to the 82nd Airborne Division, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His first combat jump was in North Africa, followed by Sicily, France, and Holland. He had four combat jumps and was a captain by the time he received his Silver Star award in Belgium.


Combat from North Africa to Germany, Tom saw it all
left: Invasion North Africa / right: 504th PIR in Nijmegen, Netherlands

He was Company B Commander in December 1944 when Company B of the 504th parachuted into France and then moved on to Belgium and Holland. This was heavy combat. It was in Cheneux, Belgium, that Tom and his company were pinned down by a German Panzer Division for more than two days. Very few of the men in Company B survived. Helgeson received the Silver Star for gallantry on December 20, 1944, on the battlefield from General John Gavin.

Tom receives the Silver Star on the battlefield
The officer in front is General John Gavin

Tom returned to the United States after the close of World War II and remained in the Regular Army. He was a trainer for parachute and infantry regiments until 1956, serving as an advisor and administrative assistant to the American Army during the Korean conflict.

Tom during the Korean War - 1953

In 1956 he began another career in the foundry business at Berlin Chapman Company in Berlin, Wisconsin. The company was eventually sold to a multi-national corporation named Perfex-McQuay. At the time of his retirement, Tom Helgeson was Vice President of Management-International at Perfex.

Tom, Vice President of Management-International at Perfex

During most of his private career, he remained active in the National Guard. He was re-activated in the Wisconsin 32nd Division National Guard in 1960 during the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba.

Tom married Margaret Dolske in 1942 prior to going overseas. His children from that marriage were a son, Thomas A., who was born in 1945, and Bonnie J., who was born in 1949. Later he married Shirley Helm and they had one daughter, Heidi, in 1974.

Tom Helgeson died in Bradenton, Florida, on October 26, 2004, and is buried in Ripon, Wisconsin. He left a legacy of example, dignity, and dedication to mission.

Besides the award mentioned above, Tom was awarded the USA Olympic Pistol Team, Netherlands Military Order of William, Belgian Order of the Day-Forager, Korean Honors ...

Special thanks to Tom's daughter, Bonnie Price, Bonnie's sister-in-law, Rosemary Nelsen, and Jean Woolley
published February 20, 2008