Tom Kemmer was born on April 21, 1931, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 1, 1949, and served as an infantryman with Battery C, 125th Field Artillery Battalion at Fort Rucker, Alabama, before serving a tour in Korea. After returning from Korea, Kemmer was assigned to the Mortar Battery, 504th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, followed by service with Company B, 5th Special Forces Group. After completing the U.S. Naval Underwater School in Key West, Florida, Sgt Kemmer served as an advisor in the Republic of Vietnam from 1962 to 1963. He then returned to Fort Bragg and later completed the Vietnamese Language Course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, before serving a second tour in Vietnam as the Team Sergeant for Special Forces Operational Detachment A-502. He participated in the Son Tay Raid on November 21, 1970, a top secret mission to rescue American Prisoners of War at the Son Tay POW Camp in North Vietnam. CSM Kemmer retired from the U.S. Army on March 31, 1977, and later served with the Central Intelligence Agency. Tom Kemmer died on June 29, 2009.
His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Master Sergeant Thomas J. Kemmer, United States Army, for extraordinary gallantry in action on 21 November 1970 as a member of an all-volunteer joint United States Army and Air Force raiding force organized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct a heliborne assault in a heroic effort to rescue United States military personnel held as prisoners of war at Son Tay prison in North Vietnam. After debarking from the assault helicopter which crash-landed inside the prison compound, Sergeant Kemmer aggressively maneuvered to secure and clear his preplanned position. Immediately upon reaching his position, he faced a sudden attack of North Vietnamese soldiers moving from the north area of the compound in an apparent attempt to reinforce the east gate area. With complete disregard for his life, Sergeant Kemmer remained at his exposed and unconcealed position and fearlessly engaged the attacking enemy with his rifle. Sergeant Kemmer then unhesitatingly continued his preplanned task of searching and clearing a key cell block. Sergeant Kemmer's bold and courageous actions were an inspiration to his comrades and contributed immeasurably to the successful execution of the raid. His extraordinary gallantry in action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit on him and the United States Army.