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Thomas James Edgell

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Thomas James Edgell
1921-1944

"You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor."

Aristotle

Thomas James Edgell was a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps who fought and died in World War II. He was born in 1921 on April 21 and was later killed in action, overseas in the Pacific, on July 22, 1944. Growing up in the state of Wisconsin, he at some point moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and even later to Beckley, West Virginia. It may seem curious as to why a man from Minnesota would end up in Beckley, but Sgt. Edgell was working there as a military recruiter before being sent to combat in World War II.

Sgt. Edgell established himself as a West Virginian when he married Alfreda Louise Cook, originally from Pineville, West Virginia, on March 4, 1943. Alfreda’s roots in southern West Virginia were deep; she had attended Princeton High School and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley. She had been employed at Montgomery-Ward, first in Martinsburg and later in Beckley.

Sgt. Edgell fought in the Pacific Theater in the Battles of Guam and Saipan. Sgt. Edgell was buried in Minnesota at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in 1949 after being brought back from overseas.

Sgt. Thomas Edgell was born in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. His father was Fred B. Edgell, who was born in Illinois, and his mother was Elizabeth “Lizzie” Edgell. According to the 1930 U. S. Federal Census, he had four brothers and sisters—Rowena, Isabelle, Fred J. and Parthenia—all who were older than him. When he died, they were respectively 45, 33, 28 and 25 years old. Thomas did graduate from high school while living in St. Croix Falls and was even a member of the basketball team there.

He later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1940, Minneapolis had a population of 492,370 people. The land area of Minneapolis in 1940 was 53.8 square miles, and it was considered the eighth largest city in the U.S. As a large city, Minneapolis was not without its problems, but it was also called the “Gateway to the Land of 10,000 Lakes” during this time, and 56 percent of people owned houses. Thomas’ place of burial would seem to indicate that his family considered him to be a Minnesotan.

However, Thomas only lived in Minnesota for a few years. He joined the Marines and was stationed at the local marine recruiting center on October 21, 1942. He was transferred to Beckley, West Virginia, where he later met his future spouse, Alfreda Louise Cook. They were married in Raleigh County, West Virginia, on March 4, 1943. The couple lived in Beckley, until Edgell was shipped to the Pacific Theater.

Sgt. Edgell was enlisted as a sergeant for the U.S. Marine Corps and fought in the battles of Saipan and Guam. The Battle of Saipan was fought on June 15, 1944, until July 9, 1944. Many civilians on the island died during this battle from suicide because they did not want to get caught by the Allied forces. Many American and Japanese soldiers were killed and wounded as well during this battle. The Battle of Guam was fought on July 21, 1944, until August 10, 1944. Nearly 10,000 Marines were enlisted for this battle. Guam is one of the largest islands that were fought over in the Pacific Theater, being 32 miles long and 10 miles wide. Many Japanese soldiers were either captured or killed during this battle. Sadly many Americans, including Sgt. Edgell, were killed as well. After the battle, Guam was turned into an Allied operations base. (More information about the Battles of Saipan and Guam can be found in Kenneth Hickman’s “World War II: Battle of Saipan,” About Education [About.com], Web, accessed 17 June 2015, and “Battle of Guam: 21 July-10 August 1944,” U.S. Army Center of Military History, CMH News and Features, Web, accessed 17 June 2015.)

Sgt. Thomas J. Edgell was killed in action on July 21, 1944, the first day of the Second Battle of Guam. Sadly, he died at the age of 23 years. Sgt. Edgell’s remains were finally returned to the U.S. in July of 1949, after almost five years being overseas. They were laid to rest in Minnesota at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery. While his headstone proclaims him to be a Minnesotan, his time spent in West Virginia qualifies him for inclusion on the West Virginia Veterans Memorial.
Fort Snelling National Cemetery

Fort Snelling National Cemetery Avenue of Flags. Courtesy National Cemetery Administration

Article prepared by Christopher Grady, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2015

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Thomas James Edgell

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