Born on the Fourth of July, heroic Missouri West Point cadet laid to rest on his 19th birthday

Thomas Micheal Surdyke was born, like the country he served, on the Fourth of July.

Today, the teenager from Festus, Mo., near St. Louis, was supposed to turn 19.

Today he was supposed to celebrate that birthday having finished his first year as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Instead, Surdyke’s family, friends and classmates gathered at West Point’s Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity and at the West Point Cemetery early Monday to honor and bury a young man who is being remembered as both a hero in life and death.

Surdyke, who had also earned the rank of Eagle Scout before entering the military academy, lost his life last week as a consequence of saving the life of a drowning swimmer off the beaches of Long Island, N.Y. on June 24. The swimmer had gotten caught in a riptide.

Ingesting water himself, Surdyke lay in a hospital on life support for four days. He died on June 28th. He chose to donate his organs, to “serve others in death as he did in life,” a family statement said.

Surdyke’s parents are Tim and Janice Surdyke. A Go Fund Me memorial campaign exists to raise money for a scholarship fund in Surdyke’s name for students demonstrating high character and leadership. Nearly $40,000 has already been pledged.

“Cadet Surdyke epitomized the values of duty, honor, country in all that he did,” Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the academy superintendent at West Point, said in a written statement.

A memorial mass in Festus at Our Lady Church is being scheduled for the week of July 11th.

“We would like to express our sincere gratitude for everyone's heartfelt prayers and messages of support and love,” Janice Surdyke wrote recently to supporters on Facebook. “Tom wrote in his admissions application essay to West Point the following: ‘I want to dedicate my life to serve and protect those who are not able to do so for themselves. A career in the military is not only something I desire, it is something I truly feel called to do.’

“Our decision to lay Thomas to rest at West Point is based upon these beliefs. Thomas deserves a hero's resting place.”

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler