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Obituaries / MILITARY DEATHS

Army Sgt. Thomas P. McGee, 23, Hawthorne; killed by roadside bomb

September 30, 2007|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

By all accounts, Army Sgt. Thomas P. McGee was a modest man. As a trainer of military police in Afghanistan, he was soft-spoken where others were loud, gracious where others were demanding and patient in the face of disorder.

But at the end of the day, it was McGee, a 23-year-old Hawthorne resident, who always got the job done.

Working in extreme conditions in some of the most volatile areas of the world, he and his troops endured instability and danger. But McGee was always the calm in the center of the storm, and his death July 6 produced a vacuum that will not be filled, his family and friends said.

McGee died of injuries suffered when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the Wazi Khwa district of southeastern Afghanistan's Paktika province. He was assigned to the 546th Military Police Company, 385th Military Police Battalion at Ft. Stewart, Ga.

"He was a positive influence to his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan," said his maternal aunt Debbie Vaughn. "His friends liked to talk about the one guy that he would always remind to wear his gear. He really looked after them and was very soft-spoken, low-key and mature -- always a little more mature than other kids his age even when he was little."

McGee was born Sept. 19, 1983, in Harbor City. As a youngster, he played Little League and Pop Warner football. He went to Redondo Union High School, participated in the Junior ROTC program and graduated in 2001.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, McGee wanted to join the military.

But he was barely 18 and instead enrolled in criminal-justice classes at El Camino College. In 2002, he enlisted as a reservist in the Army National Guard and was sent to Kosovo as part of peacekeeping operations.

He was assigned to help train his colleagues but was especially noted for his affinity with the local children, according to accounts from colleagues, displaying a warmth that his aunt said echoed with her own children, who grew up adoring and admiring McGee.

In 2006, McGee joined the Army and was sent to Afghanistan, where he was described as dependable and selfless. Single and with no children, McGee gave up his chance to make telephone calls so that his married colleagues could call their loved ones, his mother, Sylvia McGee, told the Daily Breeze newspaper in Torrance.

Though a single guy, McGee was always concerned for the welfare of his married comrades -- the "married folks" he called them, his aunt said. When one colleague and his wife had a baby, he was the first to send a present, she said.

In his time off he enjoyed mystery novels, and his musical tastes varied from classical to rock 'n' roll to Celtic. McGee also loved to engage friends and family in deep conversation.

"He'd bring up everything from politics to social issues, and we'd agree or disagree, but I really enjoyed our discussion and that's one thing I'm really going to miss," his aunt said.

In one of his last correspondences in June, McGee e-mailed his aunt, expressing thanks that her husband, Tom, a Navy lieutenant commander, had returned home safely from a deployment to Kuwait. McGee had hoped to hook up with him in Kuwait on his way to Afghanistan, but the two never crossed paths, his aunt said.

"He was telling me he was so glad to hear about my husband's safe return, but then he didn't return safely," she said.

Her lasting memory of her nephew is from a celebration last Christmas. McGee's grandfather had traveled from Sacramento to see him.

"I'll always remember how he walked up and gave the biggest smile and hug and said, "Hi, Grandpa,' " she said. "He had such a warm, sincere hug when he hugged you; he was very caring. Those are the things I'll miss."

In addition to his mother, aunt and uncle, McGee is survived by his father, Tom; and a brother, Corey, 19.

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

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