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Kentucky National Guard Memorial

Honoring Their Sacrifice

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Brown, Thomas J. "Tommy" (P1, C2 L5)

Tommy Brown head and shouldersSergeant Thomas J. "Tommy" Brown of Madisonville, Hopkins County, Kentucky, age 34, drowned in the Pond River at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, 23 January 1937 while on state active duty in response to the flood of 1937 approximately one half mile west of Jewel City in nine feet of flood water.

He was assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion of the 149th Infantry from Madisonville. He is the only known Kentucky National Guardsman who perished on duty during the great flood of 1937. According to newspaper accounts, Brown and Second Lieutenant James L. Moore, Assistant Postmaster; Private C. W. Anthony and a civilian, Emmett Ashby, a teacher at Friendship school; were in a boat commandeered from Spring Lake and equipped with an outboard motor. The boat’s stern came apart from the vibrations from the outboard motor and quickly sank by the stern throwing all four into the nine-foot deep water within seconds.

The other three were able to swim to shallow waters. Moore and Anthony were able to complete the sixty foot swim despite wearing regulation military equipment including a military storm coat, gum boots and fully loaded cartridge belts. All three suffered from exposure and shock standing in eighteen inches of water for some fifteen minutes before they were rescued by a second boat. They were treated at a nearby home. Brown was last seen clinging to the boat bow debris as the three swam to shallow water but had sunk from sight by the time the three were standing in the shallower water.

Rescuers searched the rest of the day and through the night and were able to eventually recover the boat. The waters continued to rise in the area from nine feet to eighteen feet by the next day complicating efforts to recover his body. His body was recovered a week later at the spot he was lost. The Guardsmen were on a survey mission to assess conditions in Ashbyburg and Jewel City area as the flood advanced into those areas and Ashby was catching a ride to Ashbyburg in hopes of getting closer to his home. Brown was a butcher in civilian life at the Red Front Grocery then on West Center Street in Madisonville and was married and had one son. Brown's battalion commander, Oren Coin, wrote a letter to a legislative committee on the widow’s behalf in December of 1937 seeking some sort of relief for his family. Sergeant Brown's death most likely was the beginning of the push for the state’s death gratuity for Kentucky National Guardsmen who die on State Active Duty missions. Brown is buried at the East Lawn Cemetery in Hanson, Hopkins County.

Brown enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard on 10 May 1933. He was promoted to Private First Class on 2 November 1933 and to Corporal on 26 November 1934. Brown was promoted to Sergeant on 1 August 1935 but was reverted to Private First Class on 27 September 1935 and the next day promoted back to Corporal on 28 September 1935. His military records found so far offer no explanation for the change in ranks. He was again promoted to Sergeant on 1 May 1936. On his enlistment documents he listed his occupation as a miller for 11 years and as a clerk for 8 years.

He is the only known Kentucky National Guardsman who perished on duty during the great flood of 1937.

Brown's battalion commander, Oren Coin, wrote a letter to a legislative committee on the widow’s behalf in December of 1937 seeking some sort of relief for his family.

December 28 1937

Hon. John Kirtley
Legislative Committee, Kentucky Legislature
Frankfort Ky.

Dear John:

The thing that I meant to talk to you about during the recent visit to your office was the case of Sgt. Brown, of Bn. Hq Co., Madisonville Ky,. concerning whom, the facts are as follows:

Thomas J. Brown, Sergeant Hq. Co. 3rd. Bn. 149th. Infantry, Madisonville Ky. while on active duty under call of the Adjutant General of Kentucky on January 23, 1937, was drowned. He was survived by a wife and one child, 10 years of age. Pa(i)d only a small amount of insurance and a part of this went for necessary funeral expenses. His wife's father Aspasia Utley, who, by the way, served 20 years in the Ky. Guard from 1898 to 1918. died (on 16 October 1937) further complicating the case and increasing the need of this family.

With these facts and since no provision is now in effect covering such cases, we are respectfully asking your committee to include in your recommendations to the coming session of the Legislature such pay or allowance as will compensate to, at least, some extent for their loss and for the care of this child.

Any additional information on this case will be gladly given by the Adj. Gen., to whom a copy of this letter is addressed, Lieut James K. Ramsey or myself.

Now, John, I realize that this is only messing up the detail for you but this man died in line of duty and while he was doing what he could to care for the flood sufferers in the recent flood and it just seems that it is our duty to make some provision for the family. For the state to not even be able to pay funeral expenses seems to me to leave a great gap and that some amends should be made. Further, we feel that any measure taken in this direction will be appreciated by this family and all who are acquainted with the case.

Thanking you for any effort you may make, we are
Very truly yours
Oren Coin

Sergt Brown Of Guard Drowns
Was Engaged In Rescue Work At Time
The State Journal [Frankfort, Ky], 24 January 1937, p. 1.

Madisonville, Ky., Jan. 23 (AP) Sergeant Tommy Brown, 35, of the Kentucky National Guard, drowned while on flood duty in Pond River near Slaughters, Ky., today.

The motor boat in which he and three companions, Second Lieut. J. L. Moore, assistant postmaster here; Private C. W. Anthony, and Emmet Ashby a teacher at Friendship school capsized when the outboard fell off. His companions who swam to shore suffered from exposure. They had gone to a flood marooned school house to get some of Ashby's possessions.

Brown, a butcher, was a member of Headquarters Company of the Kentucky National Guard. He is survived by his widow and one child. The body had not been recovered tonight.

Tom Brown, Madisonville, Loses Life on Flood Rescue Mission
Madisonville Messenger January 25, 1937 Courtesy Linda Qualls, Hopkins County Genealogical Society

Sergeant Tom Brown, 33, of the Madisonville National Guard company drowned about 2:30 o’clock Saturday afternoon when a boat collapsed in nine feet of flood water half a mile west of Jewel City. Members of the military company have been searching for the body continuously, using hooks, but at noon Monday the search remained unsuccessful. Water at the point where Brown went down was eighteen feet deep today.

Two other guardsmen, Second Lieutenant Lawrence Moore and Private C. W. Anthony and Emmett Ashby, teacher in Friendship school, were in the boat, with Brown. After swimming sixty feet in icy water to the Slaughters Road, they were rescued in another boat.

The survivors were taken to the Joe Sandefur home, two miles from Jewel City, where they were stripped before a roaring fire and treated with stimulants by Dr. James Wilson Slaughters. Beyond suffering from exposure and shock, the three withstood the ordeal well.

The Madisonville Guard company had been ordered out Friday night by Adjutant General G. Lee McClain, Frankfort, to assist in flood rescue in the Ashbyburg - Jewel City Region.

According to Lieut. Moore, he, Brown and Anthony were going from high ground to Jewel City and Ashbyburg to make a survey of flood conditions. Ashby asked to go along, hoping to catch another boat at Ashbyburg to take him to his home.

The boat, which had been taken from Spring Lake here, had been equipped with an outboard motor, the vibrations from which caused boards in the stern to part. The boat ended into the water almost without warning, throwing out its occupants.

The guardsmen were weighted down with equipment. Each was wearing a storm coat, gum boots and other regulation equipment, including, it is said, cartridge belts fully loaded. Brown was seen last clinging to the up-ended boat. As the three others struggled toward the road, Brown was told to hold on. He nodded affirmatively. While swimming toward the road, Lieut. Moore looked back, saw Brown shake his head and sink. He did not come again to the surface.

Moore, Anthony and Ashby stood on the road in eighteen inches of water for fifteen minutes before help in a following boat arrived. “We could not have stood it much longer,” Anthony said later, “we were just about numb from the cold.”

Guardsmen, farmers living near the scene and people from Madisonville worked feverishly through out Saturday night and Sunday.

The boat was recovered and searchers believed Brown's body could not be far away. However, he sank over a ditch and it is help possible, his body may have been carried up or down the stream.

Brown, an employee of the Red Front Grocery, West Center street, is survived by his widow, Mrs. Mary Utley Brown; his son, Herbert, of Madisonville, and by his father, Martin Brown, of Sebree. Mrs. Brown is the daughter of A. Utley for many years a member of the Hopkins
Fiscal County.

Madisonville Messenger January 30, 1937 Courtesy Linda Qualls, Hopkins County Genealogical Society

The body of Sergeant Tom Brown, 33, who drowned at 2:30 o’clock last Saturday afternoon in flood waters near Jewel City, was found today floating near the point where the guardsman was seen last clinging to a boat. It was to be brought to Madisonville this afternoon. Brown and C. W. Anthony, of Madisonville National Guard under command of Second Lieutenant Lawrence Moore, with Emmett Ashby, school teacher, were enroute from the flood edge to survey conditions in Jewel City and Ashbyburg. Vibrations from an outboard motor proved too much for the worn rowboat to which it had been attached and the stern simply fell out, throwing the four men into icy water. All but Brown swam sixty feet to a road, where they waited 15 minutes in eighteen inches of water before being rescued in another boat. The military company and others have searched continuously for Brown's body, It came to the surface almost a week, to the hour after sinking.

Flood Victim Buried Sunday
Madisonville Messenger, 1 February 1937, p. 1.

Sergeant Tom Brown, 33, of Madisonville Headquarters Company, Kentucky National Guard, drowned January 23 while on a flood relief mission near Jewel City, was accorded military honors at his funeral at 9 o’clock Sunday morning, about twenty-four hours after his body had been recovered from twenty feet of water at the approximate spot where he was seen last. Funeral was conducted by the Rev. W. C. Frank, pastor of the First Methodist Church, at the home of Arthur E. Shelton, 137 South Scott, a brother-in- law of Sgt. Brown, and the burial took place at Providence Church, near Hanson.

Pallbearers were: First Lieutenant J. K. Ramsey, company commander, Second Lieutenant J. L. Moore, Sergeant Robert Virgil Hall, Houston Parker, C. E. Sanderson and Roy D. Maraman. Sergeant Brown is survived by his widow, Mrs. Mary Utley Brown; his son, Herbert Brown, and his father, Marvin Brown, Sebree.

Coroner Carl Hoffman conducted an inquest Saturday afternoon at the Barnett Funeral Home, the verdict of which was ”accidental drowning while in the line of duty.”





Above Tom Brown, his wife Mary and their son Thomas Kirby Brown.
Below Tom Brown and son Thomas Kirby Brown.


The Kentucky National Guard Memorial Fund, Inc., is a recognized 501(c)(3). EIN 26-3705273

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