President Richard Nixon awards Thomas James Kinsman the Medal of Honor on May 17, 1969.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 5/11/2015
  • Essay 11042
On May 17, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) awards Thomas James Kinsman (b. 1945) the Medal of Honor. On February 6, 1968, in Vietnam, Private First Class Kinsman was a rifleman in Company B, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. Company B was moving through a narrow channel in tracked amphibious troop carriers when it came under intense fire from the Viet Cong. The troops disembarked the vehicles to fight back, but they were hindered by dense undergrowth. Eight soldiers including Private First Class Kinsman were cut off from the main force. As they moved to rejoin, an enemy grenade landed in their midst. To warn the others, Private First Class Kinsman yelled "grenade" and leapt on the grenade. He received serious wounds to the chest and head. He spent more than four months at Madigan Army Hospital, Fort Lewis, for surgeries and recovery. For his heroism he received the Medal of Honor.

Growing Up and Going to War  

Thomas James Kinsman was born in Renton and grew up in Issaquah. In 1962 the family moved to a farm in Onalaska in Lewis County. The family operated a diary, the Til-Tom Dairy. Thomas Kinsman was working in logging when he was drafted in 1967.

He received basic and advanced training and was then shipped to Vietnam.

In Vietnam, on February 6, 1968, Kinsman, serving as a rifleman, was with Company B  on a reconnaissance-in-force mission. The purpose of the mission was to provoke the enemy into a firefight to expose their position. As his company moved up a narrow canal in tracked amphibious troop carriers, it came under intense fire from a Viet Cong force. Company B disembarked and assaulted the enemy bunker complex, but the assault was hindered by dense undergrowth that slowed movement and limited visibility. Moving through the undergrowth, a group of eight soldiers got cut off from the main force. The eight men including Kinsman tried to rejoin the company and as they were attempting to locate the main force, a grenade landed in their midst. To warn the others, Private First Class Kinsman yelled "grenade" and threw himself on the grenade. He received serious head and chest wounds while saving seven comrades. For this action he received the nation’s second highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross.

He had overseas medical treatment and was promoted to Special Fourth Class. For additional surgery and recovery he was sent to Madigan General Hospital, Fort Lewis. Specialist Fourth Class Kinsman spent more than four months at Madigan. He was released from the hospital in March 1969.

He was discharged from the army and returned to Onalaska to fell trees for a logging company. The next month he was in the forest working when an officer from Fort Lewis showed up. He had come to inform Kinsman that he would be receiving the Medal of Honor. Thomas J. Kinsman and family members would go to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. 

Recognizing a Hero

On May 17, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon awarded him the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on the South Lawn. Ten family members and relatives of Thomas Kinsman attended. They included his father, Thomas R. Kinsman (1917-1988), and mother, Tillie M. Kinsman (1919-2012), three brothers, and two sisters and their husbands.

On July 8, 1969, Thomas Kinsman went out to McChord Field to greet the 814 members of his former unit as they returned home. At their arrival he downplayed his heroism, expressing pride in his unit.

In 1971 Thomas Kinsman married Deloris L. Wright (1947-2005), an Onalaska High School graduate. They lived in Lewis County in the area around Onalaska. 

In the center of Onalaska is the Thomas J. Kinsman Memorial Park. In the center of the park is a small monument honoring veterans. The American Legion Post 508 and the city created and maintain this park.

In January 1973 Kinsman and other Medal of Honor recipients from Washington state were honored guests at the inauguration of President Richard Nixon. He has attended several other Medal of Honor activities including a gathering of 15 Medal of Honor recipients from Washington held at the State Capitol in February 1990.

In 2015 Thomas Kinsman continued to live in Lewis County where he had many relatives. He remained modest about his actions and shunned the designation of hero.

Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); Peter Collier and Nick Del Calzo, Medal Of Honor: Portraits Of Valor Beyond The Call Of Duty (New York: Artisan Press, 2011); "Decorated," The Seattle Times, November 25, 1968, p. 7; "Kinsman Family Plans Trip To U.S. Capital," Centralia Daily Chronicle, May 15, 1969, p. 1; "Unassuming Onalaskan Shuns Heroes Label," Centralia Daily Chronicle, May 31, 1969, p. 14; "Nixon Honors State Hero," The Seattle Times, May 17, 1969, p. 1; "Modest Hero Squirms as He Greets Old Unit at McChord," Ibid., July 9, 1969, p. 51; "Many from Washington at Inaugural," Ibid., January 19, 1973, p. 1.

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