NORMAN — Cmdr. Thomas Bedford, U.S. Navy Reserve retired, dodged kamikazes in the Pacific during World War II.
He now lives in the Norman Veterans Center.
He is 94 years old and is a native of Gordo, Ala., where he graduated from high school in 1937. After high school he attended Auburn Polytechnic Institute, (now Auburn University) in Auburn, Ala., where he was in the ROTC for two years before joining the Navy. He could see that a war was coming, and he volunteered for the Navy because he didn’t want to be drafted into the Army.
After a few months of active duty, officials noticed that he had some college hours and he was sent, along with a group of 700, to the Naval Academy. At the end of one semester of strictly military training at Annapolis, he was commissioned an Ensign in the Reserves.
He was assigned to the submarine USS Skipjack in Manila on Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Tom eventually was assigned in Australia as the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation officer.
According to his commander, his job was to “take sailors who had just spent 80 days in combat and give them so much fun that they would want to go back for another 80 days of combat so that they could come back to Australia for another rest period.”
He was assigned for a while on Midway Island, where he remembers that the only woman on the island was the attractive daughter of the manager of the hotel. (He claims that he was too busy to date her.)
Close to the end of the war he was executive officer on the USS Epping Forest dodging and shooting down Japanese kamikazes while providing crucial support to the Marines invading Okinawa.
Tom also served during the Korean War; he was on an oil tanker refueling aircraft carriers 15 hours a day. After Korea he was assigned to Washington, D.C., as the head of Tanker Division, Military Sea Transportation Service. He was in charge of 200 tankers moving oil around the world for all the military services.
He retired from the Navy in 1964.
He married his wife, Lucile, at her home in Alabama; they have been married 70 years. They have two sons; one, who graduated from the University of Oklahoma, lives in Norman and is a dean at Oklahoma City University. The other son is a Superior Court judge in Atlanta.
Tom moved to Norman to be closer to his son here.