Evans, Thomas J. (704th)

Thomas J. Evans 2Thomas J. Evans

Biography: Thomas Joseph Evans was born on March 11, 1920, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He was one of five sons and one daughter born to Frank Henry Evans Sr. and Hilda Cecillia Graff. He attended local schools and played on the Greensburg High School tennis team, graduating in 1938. His draft card indicates he was working as a Gulf Gas Station attendant in 1941.

Service Time: Thomas entered the Army on November 12, 1941, at New Cumberland, PA, and was soon sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. He was accepted into OCS (Officer Candidate School) and at the beginning of May, 1942, he began the 3-month course at Fort Knox. After graduating, he was assigned to the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion, which was training at Pine Camp, New York, attached to the 4th Armored Division. The unit trained at several other locations in the U.S. including Camps Hood and Maxey, Texas and the Desert Training Center in southern California. While the unit was stationed at the Desert Training Center, the Army decided to develop a new tank destroyer. Each tank destroyer battalion assigned two men to attend classes for the development of this tank destroyer at General Motors in Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Thomas was one of the men from the 704th who got to go. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on December 28, 1942 and to Captain on January 23, 1943.

The 704th was finally sent to Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts, for final preparations before going overseas. They shipped out from the Boston port on February 27, 1944, and arrived in Liverpool, England, on March 13th. For the next four months, they received additional training in the United Kingdom. They then boarded LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) and landed at Utah Beach on July 12th and 13th. They were the first unit in the ETO (European Theater of Operations to be equipped with M18 tank destroyers TD’s) and participated in the Cobra breakout at the end of the month. They advanced into Brittany and then raced east across France, passing north of Orleans, and crossing the Moselle River to Luneville in early September.

Thomas J. Evans 1By early evening on September 18th, Company C, commanded by Captain Evans, had reached Arracourt, France. On the 19th, German armor launched an attack on Luneville, about 10 miles south. Company C had one platoon near the town and the TD’s immediately knocked out several German tanks. The remaining tanks changed course following this and headed toward Arracourt through a small valley. Thomas had placed his remaining two platoons on the high ground on each side of this valley. When the enemy tanks came in range, the TD’s began to fire on them. Between the three platoons, 28 German tanks were knocked out. For his actions during this engagement, he was awarded a Bronze Star medal.

German attacks continued over the next week or so in the area. On the 22nd, enemy tanks attacked in the Moyenvic area, about 4 miles north of Arracourt, hitting the outmatched 25th Cavalry Squadron hard. Again, a platoon of Company C’s tank destroyers, directed by Captain Evans, began to knock out the enemy tanks. After weeks of rainy weather, the sun finally broke out and US fighter bombers came in and supported a U.S. counterattack, which ended the threat. For his actions during this attack, Thomas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC).

The citation described his actions as follows:

“When the enemy launched a fierce tank-infantry attack on Captain Evans’ position, he fearlessly manned the machine gun of his armored car and drove off the hostile infantry. After a fierce exchange of fire with an enemy tank, this intrepid officer ran from his armored car to a disabled tank-destroyer and with its gun destroyed the hostile tank. He then went on foot through intense small arms and heavy weapons fire to another of his platoons and remaining in an exposed position for two hours, directing it in the repulse of the enemy attack. Captain Evans’ heroic leadership, dauntless courage and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 4th Armored Division, and the United States Army.”

The 704th remained in the same general area through October but in November, they fought in the Morhange region and crossed the Saar River by month’s end. At some point, Thomas was appointed as the Battalion Intelligence Officer (S-2) a position he held during the remainder of the war. On December 19th, they were deployed to the Ardennes and fought around Bastogne in January, 1945. The unit then moved back south, advancing into Germany near Sinz in February, fighting through the Siegfried Line and into the Saar-Moselle triangle. Supporting the drive to Bitburg in March, they reached the Rhine River by mid-month. Crossing the river on March 24th at Nierstein, the unit roared east to Gotha by April 4th, and passed through the Harz Mountains to Bayreuth, in late April. They finally entered Czechoslovakia at Volyne on May 6th and the war ended two days later.

The 704th received credit for the campaigns of Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe. In addition to the DSC and Bronze Star, Thomas was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Bronze Star, the EAME, American Service and the Good Conduct Medals. He also shared in the unit’s award of the Distinguished Unit Citation. He was discharged February 8, 1946, at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, but remained in the Army Reserves until the start of the Korean War. He left the Army at the rank of Major

Thomas returned home to Greensburg, while on leave, and began working for Eidemiller’s, a General Construction and Real Estate Developer company in Greensburg. He started in the parts department and took three years of night classes in accounting at Saint Vincent College and worked in the accounting department. On June 29, 1946, he married the former Martha Keffer and they had three children, Thomas Jr., Mike and Lisa. Martha passed away in 1973, and in 1976, he married the former Nancy Lee Cumpson who was born in McKeesport, PA, and was the daughter of George A. Cumpson and Mary Smith. In addition to being an accountant, he was also the controller for all of the operations at Eidemiller’s until he retired in 1979. He continued doing part time accounting work and he and his wife owned and operated a dry-cleaning and coin operated laundry business.

Thomas J. Evans 3Thomas passed away on July 14, 1998 and was buried in the Saint Clair Cemetery in Greensburg. Thank you to Find a Grave contributor “NK56” for use of the grave marker photo. Thank you also to Erwin Verholen for the DSC Citation.