First Lt. Thomas Reed Beasley didn’t have to be on the front lines — he had just finished his law degree at the University of Georgia in 1917.
But Beasley volunteered for the infantry after his graduation, and when the American Expeditionary Force took up its positions in eastern France, he was in the trenches with the 3rd Infantry Division. Beasley was assigned to Company D, 4th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Brigade.
The 22-year-old officer never returned to his hometown of Reidsville, Georgia.
He was killed in action in the Meuse-Argonne sector on Oct. 5, 1918, while fighting in the biggest offensive in American military history. Roughly 1.2 million American troops participated in the sweeping attack, which had the imperial German forces in retreat until the war’s end in November 1918.
Beasley was one of more than 26,000 Americans killed there.
But Beasley’s pregnant widow never received anything more than a telegram informing her of her husband’s death. His body stayed in France, too, buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.
On Monday morning, the 3rd Infantry Division righted that historical wrong by presenting the Purple Heart and World War I Victory Medal to Beasley’s descendants, including his granddaughter and closest living relative, Kay Beasley Toups.
The awards were presented in a small ceremony at the 3rd Infantry Division Museum on Fort Stewart, Georgia.
A 3rd Infantry Division release said the ceremony was “the culmination of the efforts of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, U.S. Army Forces Command, the 3rd Infantry Division, and the Beasley family.”
The family was helped through the year-long process by retired Col. Gil Gilleland, who assisted them with navigating the Army bureaucracy.
“I started the research [about a year ago], starting with the Records Center in St. Louis, museums, repositories at places like Carlisle Barracks, talked with folks at the [American Battle Monuments Commission] in Europe, and a lot of online research,” Gilleland told Army Times. “Acquiring the medals [after they were approved] proved to be a process, as the Army command who handles them had a two-year backlog due to COVID. But we were able to move up in the queue.”
Toups and her family expressed gratitude for the Army’s efforts to set the record straight and give her grandfather the honors he earned.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s beyond belief. It’s really a miracle it happened,” Toups said in the release. “The gratitude my family is feeling right now is truly indescribable. We will always be eternally grateful to the 3rd Infantry Division and to the U.S. Army, who truly never forgets its own.”
Toups’ husband, Ronald, read from the fallen soldier’s letters in an effort to bring him to life for the audience.
“You’ve heard about Tom from sort of a distant place,” Ronald said. “When you hear about Tom Beasley the man, you get a total different dimension on what he meant to this family and why we emulate not just a fallen soldier, but a man I’d be proud to call a son, a brother, and comrade in arms.”
The 3rd Infantry Division often celebrates its World War I heritage, taking its nickname — “Rock of the Marne” — from its defensive feats during the summer of 1918.
The division marks this annually with its “Marne Week” festivities.
The event was one of the first opportunities for new division commander Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, who took the reins at Fort Stewart in June, to participate in a public event marking the division’s history.
“I never thought in my 30-year career that I’d be part of something so special,” said Costanza during his remarks at the event. “To honor a soldier, even 103 years late, means so much not just to the family, but to the Marne Division as well.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.