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1927 Thomas 2024

Thomas A. McElwee, III

September 1, 1927 — May 16, 2024

Broomall

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Thomas A. McElwee, III, age 96, of Broomall, PA, beloved family man, fearless military veteran, dedicated teacher and highly recognized community volunteer, passed away on May 16, 2024.

 Born in Philadelphia, PA, he was the son of the late Thomas A. Jr. and Florence (nee Oehrich) McElwee.

Growing up in the Bywood section of Upper Darby, Tom competed in the roller-skating state championships, fenced and rode horseback.  A month after graduating from Upper Darby High School in June 1945, Tom made what was an easy decision for him and joined the US Navy, serving his country honorably and bravely.  Tom’s two uncles had been in the Navy, with his Uncle John serving 30 years and retired as a Lieut. Commander and his aunt also serving as a WAVE. 

Tom did his basic training at Sampson, NY and was assigned to work in the post office aboard the USS Independence CVL-22.  He brought experience to the job, since he worked at a post office part-time during high school.  As Tom would tell it “There were about 2,000 men on the ship and we had three-staff-people working in the post office.  You can’t beat it, it was a good position.”  Tom rose to the rank of second mailman, third class.  

Tom recalled a terrifying voyage through a typhoon close to Saipan in October 1945.  “We were in the eye of the storm.  Fifty-foot waves were breaking over the flight deck and the water-tight compartment leaked.” 

The USS Independence CVL-22 took part in the final carrier strikes against Japan in July and August 1945 and after the war, the carrier continued surveillance flights over the mainland locating prisoner of war camps.

 Tom decided to extend his enlistment to be a part of the nuclear weapon tests in the Bikini Atoll, in the Marshall Islands in July of 1946.

Named “Operation Crossroads”, it was a series of nuclear weapon tests conducted by the U.S. that exploded two bombs which were about the size of the one dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, the year before. The series was to study the effects of nuclear weapons on ships, equipment and material.  A fleet of more than 90 vessels was assembled in Bikini Lagoon as a target.

The target fleet consisted of older US ships, captured German and Japanese ships and other vessels.  Before the first test, all personnel were evacuated from the target fleet and Bikini Atoll.

A support fleet of more than 150 ships provided quarters, experimental stations, and work-shops for most of the 42,000 men of “Joint Task Force 1,” the organization that conducted the tests. 

Tom watched as his former ship, the USS Independence CVL-22, was one of the vessels which was a part of the bomb test.  A radioactive mushroom cloud burst above the lagoon, upsurging a column of 10 million tons of water, 2,200 feet wide and 6,000 feet high.  As Tom would tell it, “we didn’t think it would be that bad.   We couldn’t believe it. We were told to turn around and cover our eyes during the explosion.”  Tom goes on to tell “we went back onboard after the test for three to four hours to see the damage.  It stayed afloat for both tests.”  The ship was later taken to Pearl Harbor and San Francisco for further tests and was sunk in weapons tests off the coast of California in January 1951.   

 After returning stateside, Tom met Kathleen Patterson.  The two were married October 16, 1954 in Lansdowne, and had five children and six grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.  Kathleen passed away in 1997.

Tom went on to start a printing business in Philadelphia and taught lithography, printing and commercial photography at Marple Vo-Tech for 12 years. 

In 1964, Tom was certified as a scuba diver and taught search and recovery at many area pools including Marple Newtown High and Radnor High. He also made hundreds of dives for shipwrecks all along the Atlantic Coast and the Caribbean.

For many years, Tom worked with Haverford, Newtown and Marple police departments on search and recovery incidents at Springton Lake Reservoir, quarries and lakes.  Tom was awarded a commendation from the Marple Board of Commissioners thanking him for his service.  Tom also worked more than 10 years as a crossing guard for the Marple-Newtown School District.

 Tom was a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and enjoyed fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.

Thomas was the beloved husband of the late Kathleen (nee Patterson) McElwee, the loving father of Colleen McElwee, Patrick McElwee (Maureen), Kathleen Walker (Michael), Mare McElwee and the late John McElwee.  He was the proud grandfather of Shaun McElwee (Melissa), Michael McElwee (Janelle), Kevin McElwee, Holly Hogan (Brendan), Michael Walker (Lia), and Shannon Gilcken (Jon).  He was the loving great-grandfather of Hailey McElwee, Maddison McElwee, Connor McElwee, Mia McElwee, Hudson Hogan, Bennett Hogan, Colleen Hogan, KJ Gilcken, Carter Gilcken, and Colton Gilcken.

Relatives and friends are invited to his Visitation, Thursday, May 30, 2024, 10 – 11 AM at The Donohue Funeral Home, 3300 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square, PA   19073, 610-353-6300, followed by his Celebration of Life Service, 11 AM.  Interment SS Peter and Paul Cemetery, Springfield, PA, with Military Honors.

In lieu of flowers, contributions to Nemours Children’s Hospital, 1600 Rockland Road, Wilmington, DE  19803, https://www.nemours.org/givingtonemours.html.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Thomas A. McElwee, III, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Visitation

Thursday, May 30, 2024

10:00 - 11:00 am (Eastern time)

Donohue Funeral Home - Newtown Square

3300 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square, PA 19073

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Celebration of Life

Thursday, May 30, 2024

11:00 - 11:30 am (Eastern time)

Donohue Funeral Home - Newtown Square

3300 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square, PA 19073

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Burial

Thursday, May 30, 2024

12:00 - 12:15 pm (Eastern time)

Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery

1600 Sproul Rd., Springfield, PA 19064

Military honors to be performed by the US NAVY

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

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