Thomas Vernon McGarity was born in Right, Tennessee on December 1, 1921. He was drafted into the United States Army on November 24, 1942, one week before his twenty-first birthday. He was eventually assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 393rd Infantry Regiment, part of the 99th Infantry Division.
The 99th was one of the wartime divisions made up largely of draftees. They trained extensively stateside, and were deployed for combat in Europe on September 30, 1944. They arrived on the front lines in Belgium on November 9th. The “Battle Babies”, as the 99th became known, probed Nazi German defenses until December 16, 1944, when the enemy counterattack later known as the Battle of the Bulge began.
The 99th Infantry Division was spread out thinly along the front line when German artillery crashed down on them, signalling the beginning of Hitler’s last-gasp offensive in the west. McGarity, a Technical Sergeant and a squad leader, was wounded in the initial barrages. He received aid, but refused evacuation and returned to lead his men in a determined stand against a vastly numerically superior enemy. He was awarded the 99th Infantry Division’s sole Medal of Honor for what transpired.
Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company L, 393d Infantry, 99th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Krinkelt, Belgium, 16 December 1944. Entered service at: Model, Tenn. G.O. No.: 6, 11 January 1946
Citation: He was painfully wounded in an artillery barrage that preceded the powerful counteroffensive launched by the Germans near Krinkelt, Belgium, on the morning of 16 December 1944. He made his way to an aid station, received treatment, and then refused to be evacuated, choosing to return to his hard-pressed men instead. The fury of the enemy’s great Western Front offensive swirled about the position held by T/Sgt. McGarity’s small force, but so tenaciously did these men fight on orders to stand firm at all costs that they could not be dislodged despite murderous enemy fire and the breakdown of their communications. During the day the heroic squad leader rescued 1 of his friends who had been wounded in a forward position, and throughout the night he exhorted his comrades to repulse the enemy’s attempts at infiltration. When morning came and the Germans attacked with tanks and infantry, he braved heavy fire to run to an advantageous position where he immobilized the enemy’s lead tank with a round from a rocket launcher. Fire from his squad drove the attacking infantrymen back, and 3 supporting tanks withdrew. He rescued, under heavy fire, another wounded American, and then directed devastating fire on a light cannon which had been brought up by the hostile troops to clear resistance from the area. When ammunition began to run low, T/Sgt. McGarity, remembering an old ammunition hole about 100 yards distant in the general direction of the enemy, braved a concentration of hostile fire to replenish his unit’s supply. By circuitous route the enemy managed to emplace a machinegun to the rear and flank of the squad’s position, cutting off the only escape route. Unhesitatingly, the gallant soldier took it upon himself to destroy this menace single-handedly. He left cover, and while under steady fire from the enemy, killed or wounded all the hostile gunners with deadly accurate rifle fire and prevented all attempts to reman the gun. Only when the squad’s last round had been fired was the enemy able to advance and capture the intrepid leader and his men. The extraordinary bravery and extreme devotion to duty of T/Sgt. McGarity supported a remarkable delaying action which provided the time necessary for assembling reserves and forming a line against which the German striking power was shattered.
McGarity spent the remainder of the war as a German prisoner, and was liberated with the end of hostilities in May 1945. His Medal of Honor was presented to him at the White House by President Harry S. Truman.
He worked for the Veterans Administration as a civilian and passed away at the age of 91 on May 21, 2013. He rests in peace in the Memorial Park Cemetery of Memphis, Tennessee.