CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Thomas H. Branch was born on October 15, 1928 in Kearny, New Jersey. He became interested in military affairs while spending summers with his grandparents in Sea Girt, where the New Jersey National Guard summer training camp and rifle range were located. Branch recalled that on one occasion, in 1938, a hurricane swept away the sand covering Civil War era coast artillery emplaced at the camp for training purposes in 1896 and subsequently buried. He also noted that the New Jersey governors spent their summers at the Sea Girt camp before World War II.
Branch recalled that he heard of the Pearl Harbor attack via a radio announcement while at home that Sunday afternoon, and during World War II he volunteered to assist Coast Guardsmen patrolling the Sea Girt beach. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Political Science in 1951 and was commissioned a regular army infantry second lieutenant at the same time through the ROTC program. He entered active duty at Charleston, South Carolina shortly afterward and was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia in July, where he completed the infantry officer basic course and then airborne school. Branch was assigned as a tactical officer to the OCS program at Benning for a period and left there for Korea in 1952, traveling via Fort Lawton, Washington, Anchorage, Alaska, the Philippines and Yokohama, Japan.
In Korea, Branch was assigned as a platoon leader of a heavy weapons platoon in the 1st battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, which was part of the 45th Infantry Division. His Battalion was deployed in the east-central portion of the Korean front line, in the vicinity of Pork Chop Hill. Heavy weapons assigned to the platoon included 81mm mortars and 3.5 inch rocket launchers. Branch recalled that the North Korean enemy was poorly equipped and had inferior communications equipment, as well as a reputation for cruelty. It was said that some of their units were led by former Japanese officers.
Branch remembered that Korean winters were extremely cold. He and his men were issued parkas as protection against the winter weather, and they were supplied with heaters for their bunkers. The summers were hot and rainy, and the army issued weekly rations of ice cream and Coca Cola to maintain morale. Health care in his battalion was good, and mail arrived in a timely manner. On occasion there were USO shows, featuring such performers as Walter Pidgeon, Mickey Rooney and Eddie Fisher. Branch had five days of rest and recuperation (R&R) leave in Tokyo, Japan, which was extended by two days due to the visit of newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower to Korea, a fulfillment of his campaign promise.
When his tour of duty ended, Thomas Branch returned home via a fifteen day troopship voyage to San Francisco, followed by flights to Fort Worth, Texas and Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he was assigned until discharge on August 27, 1954. He was promoted to first lieutenant while on active duty and earned the National Defense Service Medal, UN Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with 2 bronze service stars, Airborne Wings and the Combat Infantry Badge. In the years after the war Branch did not attend any reunions, nor did he talk to others about his service. He showed the interviewer the places his unit occupied in Korea on a map of that country.
Thomas Harry Branch, 85 of Sea Girt passed away on November 6, 2013 at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.