Army Ranger, Los Alamitos High grad, remembered as true hero

Sgt. Thomas R. MacPherson, honored on 605 Freeway

Laura Herzog, of Honoring Our Fallen nonprofit, speaks to officials and well wishers gathered to honor 2004 graduate Sgt. Thomas MacPherson, below, who was killed in an Afghan war firefight in 2007. California will honor his memory with a sign.

With the 2021 Veterans Day rapidly approaching, family, friends and local officials paid homage this past week to a Los Alamitos High School graduate, who truly gave his life for his country.

“Today, with great honor, we at Honoring Our Fallen announce the official designation of the interchange of Interstate 605 and Katella Avenue in the County of Orange as the “United States Army Sergeant Thomas R. MacPherson Memorial Interchange,” said Laura Herzog, the group’s Executive Director.

Herzog pushed for the dedication and organized this week’s ceremony.

On the grounds of Los Alamitos High School, they gathered to dedicate a highway sign that will soon be installed on the exit closest to the school to honor MacPherson’s courage, sacrifice and valor on the 9th anniversary of his death.

“I’m just overwhelmed by all the people that I see on here thank you so much for coming out and honoring Tommy and supporting our family,” said his mom, Diona “Didi” MacPherson. “You just can’t even know what it means to us,” she told the assembled group.

“When he (Tommy) graduated from high school, he told his dad and I, that he was going to join the Army,” said Mrs. MacPherson, who is now a Gold Star Mother.

“We’re like, … okay,” she haltingly said. “And so he’s going to be an Army Ranger; he’s kidding, right?”

He enlisted in the U.S. Army in May 2007 and completed One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning, Ga., as an infantryman. After graduating from the Basic Airborne Course there, he was assigned to the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program also at Fort Benning.

Indeed, the Los Al graduate had made good on what he’d told his parents, he was an elite Army Ranger. Now he wanted to serve.

MacPherson was a team leader assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. When there were tough missions, MacPherson was ready to serve.

According to records, MacPherson quickly served a deployment in Iraq and later, a deployment in war-torn Afghanistan. MacPherson became a leader and went back to Afghanistan not once, not twice, but for three additional combat deployments.

On Oct. 12, 2012, he was caught in a firefight during combat operations in Ghanzi Province. The Army says MacPherson was again leading, this time he led an assault against an enemy position when small arms fire took his life. Tommy was 26 years old.

“Since his death, I’ve learned a lot about Tommy that I would have probably never known had he not been killed,” Mrs. MacPherson told the assembled well-wishers.  “I’ve just heard how the guys really respected him, and they loved him, and he was a good leader,” she said.

“Who would have thought” she incredulously said? “Tommy growing up in Sunday school, his teachers and everybody, and just to be able to hear those things about him was heartwarming for a mom,” she said.

“And I thank God that I had him for 26 years because I got to watch this crazy kid grow into a wonderful young man,” his mom said. “He got married, he had a child; he left me a little Brayden Thomas who’s now 10. He became respected at his work and, I think, what else can a mom ask for.”

“I’m blessed in that way,” Mrs. MacPherson said on a recording of the ceremony.

MacPherson is survived by his wife Claudia and their son Brayden of Tacoma, Wash., his parents, Troy and Diona of Long Beach, and siblings Jessica (Lozano) and Timothy.

According to a report filed by Patch at the time of MacPherson’s memorial service on Oct. 26, 2007, MacPherson’s father Troy said his sudden death was stunning.

Speaking inside Cottonwood Church filled with floral arrangements of red, white and blue, his voice broke as he spoke, the contemporary report said.

“This is surreal. I should not be speaking at Tommy’s memorial service,” his father Troy MacPherson is reported to have said to the hundreds gathered in the Cottonwood Church sanctuary. “He should be speaking at mine.”

“Tommy” MacPherson attended Lee Elementary, McAuliffe Middle, and graduated from Los Alamitos High School in 2004, according to school records. He attended Cypress College before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 2007 to fulfill his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger.

Known for frequently wearing his “Ray-bans,” Tommy was remembered as an outgoing boy who developed as a courageous leader once he joined the military.

MacPherson died a decorated combat veteran. His awards and decorations include the Ranger Tab, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Expert Infantryman’s Badge, the Parachutist Badge, and the U.S. Army Expert Rifle Marksmanship Qualification Badge.

MacPherson has also been awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with three Campaign Stars, Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, and the NATO Medal.

He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service and Purple Heart. As a Ranger, Sgt. Thomas R. MacPherson selflessly lived his life for others and distinguished himself as a member of the Army’s premier direct action raid force and fought valiantly as he served his fellow Rangers and our great Nation.

“His sense of duty and sacrifice lives on not only through his family, but also in his community and today we are honored to let his hometown know,” said Herzog, who thanked State Sen. Bob Archuleta, who represents the area where the sign is to be erected, for his assistance.

“You must remember Tommy as he was because that’s why he touched our hearts,” said Archuleta.  “That young man who grew up to serve this distinction, the Bronze Star Medal is not put out there just to give it out. This is valor, this is bravery, this is the call of duty. This is sacrificing himself for everyone else,” the state senator said.

Archuleta said as a former airborne paratrooper, and whose sons serve, including one as a Ranger, he thanked the family for MacPherson’s service to our country. “He grew up to serve with distinction. God Bless You and thank you for giving us a paratrooper and an American who believed in God and country,” said Archuleta.

Los Alamitos Unified School District officials also attended the service and said they were honored to host it on school grounds.

“I can recall when his body was brought back here to the family, when they landed on the base,” LAUSD Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver said during his Superintendent’s report last Tuesday after attending the Freeway sign dedication ceremony.

Pulver was an administrator in the system then.

According to accounts, MacPherson’s flag-draped coffin was flown with full military honors to Joint Forces Military Base in Los Alamitos on October 25, 2007.

Photos from the military ceremony at JFTB show hundreds of troops, veterans and military leaders standing at attention on the tarmac as MacPherson’s immediate family stands arm-in-arm awaiting his flag-draped casket.

“They had the formal procession, and we had all of our students from high school and came out to really greet the fallen soldier,” he said, remembering when MacPherson’s body was flown to Joint Forces Training Base.

Like the respect shown then, he said this week’s ceremony was indeed solemn but also, very hopeful.

“It was really a wonderful ceremony, and we were very proud to have it here,” said Pulver.

“Today was absolutely astounding,” said LAUSD President Marlys Davidson, who also attended the Freeway dedication ceremony. In 2007, when MacPherson was killed, Davidson said she was still teaching American History at McAuliffe Middle School.

“I remember students waiting along the route, very patiently, until the hearse carrying MacPherson’s body finally rolled past. The students were very respectful,” she said, “with one hand over their hearts and the other carrying an American flag,” the board president said.

“It deeply affected them,” she said.

Davidson praised the fallen soldier’s mother, Didi. “Her positiveness and her willingness to speak about the world is a refreshing and a reminder of integrity. I can’t even imagine what it means to live with that every day. We are so proud of him and his family’s service,” she said.

Mrs. MacPherson also remembered the sacrifice of Kevin Woyjeck, another Los Al High graduate, who died at 21 fighting wildfires in Arizona, and before Tommy was killed, she said she remembered always pausing to say a prayer when passing Woyjeck’s memorial freeway sign.

Mrs. MacPherson said both families have been drawn together by their shared sacrifices.

Officials say the 605 Freeway sign, which is the exit for Los Alamitos, including the high school, was expected to be installed before February of 2020.

“I would like to personally thank Senator Archuleta for working with me to make this a reality. I had been working for years to accomplish this and your tireless efforts working this memorial through to its completion even through the difficult times of our state and nation currently makes us proud,” said Herzog.

“As our motto states ‘A Hero Remembered…Never Dies,’ this memorial interchange will honor Tommy and his family’s sacrifice every day,” she added.

“On behalf of the State of California, this certificate is a very, very small token to say thank you,” said Archuleta, presenting a certificate to Didi and Timothy MacPherson on behalf of U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. Thomas MacPherson.

“We will never forget you,” said Sen. Archuleta.