Thomas James "Fighting Tom" Fletcher the Fourth (17 January 1923 - 18 November 1998) was an officer in the United States Marine Raider Division from 1942 to 1977 and a representative for Massachusetts's 3rd district from 1979 to 1985. During his military service, he was awarded four Distinguished Service Crosses as well as many other decorations for valor in battle. His distinct and extensive service and his leadership qualities have made him one of the most well-known and beloved figures in Marine Raider history.
The Fletcher family is one of Massachusetts's oldest families, dating back to their arrival from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s. They also had an impressive military record, with an ancestor fighting in nearly every American war and every English war before their migration. Thomas James Fletcher II, IV's paternal grandfather, had served with distinction in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War. Thomas James Fletcher III, his son and IV's father, was a successful business owner with numerous political ties, state and federal. Elise Janet Fletcher, Thomas IV's mother, had served as a nurse on the Western Front of World War I and helped Thomas III build his business. Thomas James Fletcher IV was born on the 17th of January, 1923 in a hospital in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
For most of his early years, Thomas lived in Haverhill, close to his family's business. In Elementary and Middle School, his academic record was moderate but more than acceptable, and he enjoyed a number of school sports, albeit in a limited capacity. For his High School education, Thomas was enrolled in Choate Rosemary Hall in 1937, where he outperformed his earlier grades and graduated in 1940. Around this time, he began taking a keen interest in foreign policy and urged U.S. intervention in World War II, to the disagreement of his father. The same year, Thomas applied and was accepted into Harvard College. It was in Harvard that he met Mary Francis Cocoran, the woman he would marry in 1946.
On December 7th, 1941, the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. Thomas Fletcher, a vocal supporter of intervention, dropped out of college in early 1942 to accept a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Raiders. During his training, he exuded capability and leadership and was given command of the Third Platoon of Company A in the 1st Infantry Battalion of the 1st Marine Raider Regiment.
World War II
On his first mission, Lieutenant Fletcher's platoon landed at Casablanca in Operation Torch, the invasion of Vichy French North Africa. He led his company up the beaches, driving the French all the way back to the city of Casablanca before taking it. 2nd Lt. Fletcher saw some of the most continuous fighting during the operation, and impressed the high command and his men. In 1943, he took part in the Battle of Kassarine Pass and fought a rearguard action with his platoon, preventing the German enemy from running down the rest of the American forces. For this battle, he was awarded his first Bronze Star. Lieutenant Fletcher fought in other battles in the Tunisia Campaign, including El Guettar, for which he was promoted to First Lieutenant. In the North African Campaign, 1st Lt. Fletcher had not only impressed the high command, but also his men, who often told that he "...respected us, like no other CO I've ever seen."
As the Sicily Campaign (as was the entire Italian Front) was being handled by the 3rd Marine Raider Regiment, 1stLt. Fletcher would not see action until mid 1944. The 1st Marine Raiders were garrisoned in England as they prepared for Operation Overlord, the invasion of mainland Europe. During this time, the Lieutenant was composed, and stressed discipline in his platoon, who he feared would lose their edge from being away from the front lines for too long. When his men were assigned their assignment documents, Lt. Fletcher made them memorize them, often quizzing them and offering no tolerance for mistakes. As he saw it, he was not exempt from this, and took every opportunity to show his men that he had done the same. Any man under his command who had seen his rules as draconian accepted them as simple dedication. After almost a year of waiting in England, the invasion was ready to begin and 1st Lt. Fletcher and his marine raiders headed back into the fray.
On June 6, 1944, the 1st Marine Raiders departed for the seaborne assault on Omaha Beach on the Normandy Coast. The men departed from the ships in their landing crafts and hit the beaches at 0645. 3rd Platoon, some of the first U.S. Troops to depart from their landing crafts, were hit hard by machine gun fire and suffered appalling casualties, including many valuable hardened veterans. The second lieutenant led his men in a 200 yard sprint across the shelf to reach the sea wall and silence the machine guns. Although it took far longer than any of Fletcher's men would have liked, they continued advancing and took out bunker after bunker, pushing inland as they advanced to their objectives. But soon, the attack ran out of momentum and the artillery and air support was less than sufficient. The Third Platoon had taken heavy casualties, with ten killed and seven wounded, bringing their losses to seventeen out of twenty-eight. Lieutenant Fletcher's performance under fire and his ability to turn a deadly situation around and take victory under the circumstances gave him his first Distinguished Service Cross. But didn't want to be decorated for losing so many men, he wanted to inflict real damage on the enemy. A Company's commander, Captain Robert Allen Murphy, had been killed, and a replacement was needed. Thomas Fletcher was offered the promotion, which he considered for a while. "On the one hand, I want to stay with my men. They need their Lieutenant," he wrote, "but on the other hand, I want a chance to straighten out this damn battered company and get them back in the line. [Captain] Murphy was a good man, but he couldn't deal with this mess, and I think I might be able to do something about it. Then we can get back into the fight. Hitler will turn himself in if he knows what's good for him."
Thomas James Fletcher IV became Captain of Able Company on the eighth of June, 1944. The company was relieved temporarily as time was needed to rebuild its strength. Captain Fletcher got the job done. He helped the replacements fit in with the veterans and got them all back into proper condition. On the night of July 1st, Captain Fletcher received word that his company was going back onto the line to prepare for the offensives at St. Lo. In a speech delivered to his men he declared, "Hitler took a lot of our brave boys on Omaha. He intends on killing every American in France. Well, that's not going to happen. We are going to take the fight to the Nazis and pay them back tenfold for every man we lost!" The end of the speech was cheered by virtually every man in the company and Captain Fletcher became the favorite company officer of the First Battalion. The company fought in Saint Lo, Operations Cobra and Luttich, and in Falaise and Chambois, in all of which they did inflict many casualties on the Germans.
After being some of the first Americans to enter Paris, the 1st Marine Raiders took part in the grand parade through the Arc de Triomphe and along the Champs-Élysées. The band played the tunes of "The Girl I Left Behind Me" (1st Battalion's march), "The Battle Cry of Freedom", and "The Marines' Hymn" (Both 1st Regimental marches), as well as a rendition of "La Marseillaise", which the Parisian spectators greatly enjoyed. Captain Fletcher appeared at the head of his company, looking especially sharp in the traditional Marine Raiders' green wool service uniform. "He was certainly a sight to behold," one private wrote. When the parade was over and France was officially liberated, the 1st Regiment was allowed a resting period in Paris. Though Captain Fletcher kept up his company's discipline, he allowed them to relax a bit and enjoy their leave before returning to the front.
The Marine Raiders pushed onwards into Germany and smashed the German line at Aachen, taking the city after prolonged fighting and heavy casualties. Once they had taken Aachen, the raiders were immediately ordered into the Hurtgen Forest. Captain Fletcher wrote to the Major in charge of First Battalion, telling him that it was too soon to order the men into action and that they needed to be at least reinforced. Nevertheless, the attack began on schedule and Captain Fletcher led his men into the forest. Under his leadership, A Company, backed up by several others, attacked the town of Schmidt, intending to take it from the Germans. But a minefield halted the battalion's advance and Captain Fletcher saw no choice but to dig in, allowing the enemy to counterattack. The remaining companies on the line did the same, and the raiders fought off several German attacks. The 2nd Battalion took Schmidt and reinforced the first, a gesture Captain Fletcher very much appreciated. But as the enemy attacks grew stronger, and the raiders retreated from the area in full. This was Cpt. Fletcher's first major defeat since Kassarine over a year ago, and he was furious. "We shouldn't have gone in. All we needed was a week or two and we would have that place, not be retreating from it with our tails between our legs!" he wrote battalion headquarters. He received no response and did not write again. Charges of insubordination were the last thing he needed.
It seemed as if Cpt. Fletcher's letter was taken to heart, as he and his men received a two-week rest, ample time to get them back into fighting shape. The next stop for Cpt. Fletcher and his company was north, to the Ardennes, as Adolf Hitler's mastermind "Battle of the Bulge" counteroffensive came to fruition. The 1st Battalion was ordered to reinforce Elsenborn Ridge, where the greatly outnumbered American defenders were beginning to thin. The Captain ordered A Company to dig in, and organized their defenses to allow for accurate machine gun and mortar support. Regimental artillery and divisional air support were also crucial. As the Germans attacked, Cpt. Fletcher's defense met the enemy and inflicted devastating casualties on them. Despite being outnumbered, the marine raiders killed disproportionate numbers of the enemy and took many prisoners. Elsenborn Ridge was more than just a victory, the already thinning German army had been wounded there and could never recover.
Throughout 1945, the marine raiders, Captain Fletcher's company included, smashed into Germany and crossed the Rhine. They pushed into Austria and then Czechoslovakia, stopping just as the war ended on May 8th, 1945. When the men of Co. A were recalled into Germany, they met a Soviet infantry company, which they shared drinks and stories with in the postwar celebrations. Cpt. Fletcher described talking with the commander of the company, who he named as Captain Dimitri Volsky. "A pleasant conversationalist. Fortunately, he knew English, but it was also damn embarrassing, trying to communicate with my very limited knowledge of Russian. We swapped stories, I told him about Normandy, he told me about Stalingrad. They'd been fighting just as much as we had, if not more." Thomas Fletcher was a vehement anticommunist, which would become even more prominent during the Cold War, but it seems that he forgot it in a moment of friendship.
After the surrender, it became the subject of much debate whether to send any the three marine raider regiments in Europe to reinforce the two in the Pacific. Thomas Fletcher was very against this. "It's unnecessary," he wrote, "the fourth and fifth regiments have been beating the Japs consistently. And besides, my boys are done with fighting. They've seen enough for a lifetime." Sure enough, neither Captain Fletcher nor his men were sent to the Pacific.
Captain Thomas James Fletcher IV had established himself as a hero to his men and to his country. His lead-from-the-front attitude was an inspiration to not just his men but to the symbol of the American fighting man, which Thomas Fletcher became an intrinsic part. He had been awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses (the second for actions in the Ardennes), a Silver Star, and two Bronze Stars.
When the Korean War began, Captain Thomas Fletcher returned to his position as company commander, eager to stop the Communist push in Asia. As the 1st Marine Raider Regiment was quickly organized, their counterparts in the 4th and 5th Marine Raider Regiments were already there, fighting tooth and nail to hold the Pusan Perimeter. In Company A, there remained a few veterans, but mostly new recruits. They were to participate in the UN counteroffensive to drive the North Koreans out of the south. An amphibious landing at Inchon was planned, and Cpt. Fletcher repeated his strict preparation policy he had applied at Normandy years before. Every man was to memorize his documents "so you can say it in your sleep," he said.
Once the landing crafts departed from their ships on September 15, 1950, the 1st Battalion advanced up Green Beach and drove the North Koreans inland. They kept pushing the enemy until the raiders arrived at the capital city, which they began to attack. Prolonged urban fighting like at Aachen in 1944 took its toll on the raiders, but the city was secured and Captain Fletcher's company was withdrawn to make another amphibious landing on the other side of the Korean peninsula. By this point, he was happy with his company's experience and deemed them able to handle anything.
When A Company along with the entire 1st regiment landed at Wonsan (which was unopposed), Cpt. Fletcher remarked on their organization, "very good. I've commanded a lot of fighting men in my time, and these boys are some of the best, no doubt. A platoon commander who was at Omaha beach said the same thing." His men also retained their devotion to his competent leadership and the captain won their undying respect as he had in World War II. The regiment advanced northward when they were counterattacked by a very large force of Communist Chinese. Cpt. Fletcher had been given information of the Chinese incursion (as had all officers down to platoon level), but he was nevertheless surprised. "Damn Communists won their war, and now we're going to have to take on the whole Chinese army. Well, I know one of my boys is worth ten of theirs, so we should be alright." During the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Captain Fletcher's men defended the line at Hagaru-ri under extremely cold weather (one private from 1st Platoon even froze to death). Despite an initial retreat, A Company held fast against superior enemy numbers and defeated all subsequent Chinese attacks. In one instance, when the company was running out of ammunition, Captain Fletcher led his men in a successful bayonet charge, routing the Chinese and buying time for fresh supplies to be delivered to the company. This awarded the captain his third Distinguished Service Cross. A Company had inflicted disproportionately heavy casualties on the enemy, but was fairly battered itself. They were relieved by Company C and received a short period of rest.
Once back in the fight, Cpt. Fletcher's company fought with distinction at Wonju (both battles), Chipyong-ni, Seoul, Hongch'on and Ch'unch'on, and the Imjin River. As the line stabilized, they saw even more heavy fighting in the mountain ranges of Korea, at Bloody Ridge and Kanmunbong Ridge (where a corporal from 1st Platoon won the Congressional Medal of Honor). They attacked and took Old Baldy, but failed to take Triangle Hill. "All these damn hills and mountains. Never thought I'd get altitude sickness here," he joked, "but if I do, it's a sight better than dying."
After their defeat at Triangle Hill, A Company and the rest of 1st Battalion were taken off the line. They enjoyed a resting period in the city of Seoul (a city which Captain Fletcher remarked upon as "fascinating. But if you spend a couple years where I have, I guess anything is."), before being reassigned to garrison Outpost Vegas. In January of 1953, Cpt. Fletcher received a message from command offering him a promotion to Major and the control of the 1st Infantry Battalion. Fletcher was aware of the differences between company command a battalion command, but he insisted on leading from the front and being on the line with his men. The Marine Raiders had a history of high officers on the front line, so Fletcher's request was accepted. He was promoted to Major Thomas James Fletcher IV on January 27, 1953, ten days after his thirtieth birthday. In march, a Chinese attack on Outpost Vegas was received in full force by the regiment. Ordered to withdraw his battalion, Major Fletcher rotated companies in a leapfrog pattern until they had all retreated without being destroyed. In this action, he was personally in combat more often than not, a display that greatly inspired his men. When his battalion was ordered to retake the outpost, he applied his strict preparatory policies on battalion scale, and secured enough artillery and air support "to level the whole country," he wrote. Instead of leveling Korea, Major Fletcher counterattacked the outpost with a brilliant strategy at the head of his men. His successful attack drove the Chinese completely out of the outpost, and Fletcher was personally congratulated by General Clark, commander of all U.S. forces in Korea. He was also awarded the Silver Star.
After the rousing victory at Vegas, the 1st Infantry Battalion was ordered to dig in on a ridge called "Pork Chop Hill". (2nd and 3rd Battalions were bogged down with heavy fighting in Kumsong, so reinforcements weren't possible) Soon enough, a massive Communist Chinese force attacked the hill and it changed hands several times. Whether leading his men in defenses or counterattacks, Maj. Fletcher was almost always on the ground and in the fight. When an extremely strong enemy attack forced the battalion off the hill, Maj. Fletcher remarked on the state of his battalion. "[We] had taken twenty-five percent casualties, heavy by modern standards, but the men don't want to give up. Their spirits were high, and I'll be damned if they'd let that hill fall to the reds." Despite the apparent high morale, command ordered a retreat from Pork Chop Hill, stating that is was "not worth the casualties." Maj. Fletcher was furious. "Do you have any idea what my boys went through? Do you have any idea what they went through before? I lost damn good men fighting for that rock, and you just up and tell me to leave?" he stated in a letter to divisional command. Rather than risk insubordination, the major did not convey his disappointment to his men. Instead, he just explained it as an acceptance of defeat, a defeat they would be sure to avenge. At the Battle of the Samichon River, Maj. Fletcher led his troops to victory over the Chinese while inflicting heavy casualties. In this action, he was wounded in the right arm and received the Purple Heart. (his arm fully healed in 1954) As the armistice was signed, the 1st Marine Raider Regiment was withdrawn from the peninsula.
Major Thomas James Fletcher IV had earned the respect of his men, as well as an increase to his fame. He became a national hero and was subject to numerous magazine and newspaper articles. In Korea, had been awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and a Bronze Star.
Major Thomas James Fletcher IV returned to his command in 1965 to fight in the growing conflict in Vietnam. He reorganized the 1st Infantry Battalion and brought them back into fighting shape, as he was famous for. During Operations Starlite and Piranha, Maj. Fletcher again fought at the front, although the fighting was on a smaller scale than he was accustomed to. (It was also here that he used his personal weapon, an M1 rifle that he had used in World War II and Korea, for the last time. He accepted the rifle's obsoleteness and switched to an M16 which he used for the remainder of the war. Both rifles, as well as his M1911A1 pistol which he used in all three conflicts, were hung in his home office from 1977 until 1998) His battalion also won victories at An Ninh and Bien Hoa over the Communist Viet Cong. under his leadership. In November 1965, the 1st Battalion was to be the first to fly into the Ia Drang Valley via helicopter. They touched ground and established Landing Zone X-Ray before they were attacked by an entire North Vietnamese division. The raiders held their ground for three days against the communist assault. Maj. Fletcher was on the line the entire duration of the battle and even rejected an offer to return to Saigon for his personal safety (a gesture that was much appreciated by his men). Fletcher's battalion did not buckle and for three days fended off attack after attack. Maj. Fletcher personally killed three enemy soldiers who were dangerously close to flanking a raider machine gun position, an action that won him his fourth and final Distinguished Service Cross. The battle at Ia Drang was a trial-by-fire for the 1st Marine Raider Regiment, which had not seen combat for over a decade. It was there that they truly proved themselves in action in Vietnam.
The next year, after completing Operation Crimp, Maj. Fletcher announced his distaste for the guerrilla nature of the Viet Cong. "A bunch of cowards," he wrote. "Say what you will about the Germans and the Chinese, at least they had the guts to fight." He went on to fight in Bong Song, Binh Dinh, and Phuoc Dinh, where he led his troops to defeat the Communist forces. In Operation Hastings, Maj. Fletcher served at the front and fought with his men to repel a particularly vicious North Vietnamese attack. After Hastings, the high command decided it was time to offer Fletcher a promotion, the colonelcy of the 1st Regiment. Knowing that it would more or less take him off the line for the most part, but also knowing that he was prepared to lead, he accepted, and became Colonel Thomas James Fletcher IV, the most prestigious rank of his military career. For the rest of 1966 and most of 1967, Colonel Fletcher remained off the line, handling strategy and logistics for the 1st Marine Raider Regiment during combat operations such as Operations Attleboro, Paul Revere IV, Cedar Falls, and Junction City. Despite his apparent declining presence, Colonel Fletcher made sure he visited the men enough and gave speeches to inspire them. Sure enough, he only rose in popularity. But he was still eager to return to combat, and he got his chance the next year.
The beginning of the Tet Offensive shocked the United States, and further confirmed Col. Fletcher's view of the Viet Cong as cowards for agreeing to and breaking the ceasefire. High command ordered him to take his regiment to the U.S. base at Khe Sanh, where a major buildup was occurring. When the enemy attacked around the perimeter, the base was cut off and Col. Fletcher decided to personally lead his men into battle again. They repulsed every attack the North Vietnamese made whilst inflicting heavy casualties, and fared very well under the siege conditions. Col. Fletcher also received another Bronze Star for a successful counterattack that routed a numerically superior enemy. The Marine Raiders held fast until they were relieved on April 6 by an American force that included the 3rd Marine Raider Regiment, who had just arrived in Vietnam. Col. Fletcher once again inspired his men by fighting alongside them as he had done in World War II and Korea.
After their heroic stand at Khe Sanh, the 1st Regiment was taken off the line while the other four marine raider regiments cleaned up the Tet Offensive. Once they returned to the front, Col. Fletcher resumed his earlier duties, coordinating units and resources during the operations that took place in 1968 and 1969. But during the planned attack on Hill 937 (which would later come to be known as Hamburger Hill), the colonel insisted on leading his troops again. "The brass doesn't understand," he wrote, "when you attack a hill like this, everything can go wrong. I need to be on the ground for this one." His foresight may have been prophetic. During the attack, all U.S. forces, including the raiders, suffered heavy casualties when exposed to enemy fire. Col. Fletcher recognized the problem and changed his tactics, allowing for the assault to succeed. When the hill was secure on May 20, the colonel personally congratulated the men from all battalions who partook in the infantry assault, including many who were wounded. He considered it "a job well done." On April 5, the U.S. abandoned the hill. Col. Fletcher's anger when he discovered this superseded his distaste at the high command in Germany and Korea in the past. He wrote several explosive messages to the divisional headquarters and was even more infuriated at the lack of reply. His support for the war had been waning since 1967 and, as he wrote, "I don't know if I support this damn war at all anymore. At this point it just seems like a goddamn pointless waste of men." Col. Fletcher, however, would not let his men hear this and kept them motivated with his speeches. He remained behind the line, conducting logistics during Operation Dewey Canyon. When it looked as if the U.S. drawdown was almost complete, he was determined to see one more fight.
The newly-established Fire Support Base Ripcord was populated by the 1st Infantry Battalion ever since their offensive into the nearby A Shau Valley during Operation Texas Star. On July 1, the base was attacked by a large North Vietnamese force. Col. Fletcher immediately led the raiders to meet the enemy, and despite superior enemy numbers, the raiders inflicted heavy casualties and repelled attack after attack until July 23, when they were ordered to withdraw. Col. Fletcher had no more qualms about withdrawing, and set about using the company rotation method that had worked in Korea. When all men of the 1st Battalion had been withdrawn, they rejoined the regiment at their operations base. This was the last major action they would see in Vietnam, with the exception of occasional combat patrols. The regiment was fully withdrawn in 1971.
After Vietnam, Thomas Fletcher remained Colonel of the 1st Marine Raider Regiment, until 1977, when he made the decision to retire. Thomas James Fletcher IV retired from the service with the rank of Colonel. In a goodbye ceremony, Col. Fletcher saluted his men and bade them all farewell. He retired a hero.
During World War II, Thomas Fletcher wrote frequent letters to Mary Frances Cocoran and his parents, telling them of his wartime experiences. Thomas James Fletcher III, though a conservative who disagreed with Thomas IV's interventionist opinions, still remained proud of his son for his heroic service to the country. When Thomas IV returned home from Europe in early June 1945, his father organized a welcome home party, inviting family friends as well as some of Thomas's close friends from Choate and Harvard. This was warmly received by Thomas, who was happy to be back in the United States.
In 1946, Captain Thomas James Fletcher IV proposed to Mary Frances Cocoran, which she enthusiastically accepted. Thomas's father, an anti-Catholic, was somewhat uneasy that his son would be marrying an Irish girl from Boston. Over a half-hour-long phone call, Thomas convinced his father to consent to the marriage and the two were wed on August 2nd, 1946, in a Methodist Church in Haverhill (as per Thomas III's one condition) ordained by a Methodist minister and a Catholic Priest. Thomas IV and his mother Elise got along very well with Mary's parents, but Thomas III was still uneasy and had a bit of trouble getting along with Mary's Irish Catholic parents. Soon enough, however, both Thomas III and Mary's father, John Patrick Cocoran, became good friends and remained in contact with one another until Thomas III's death in 1959.
Thomas and Mary Fletcher honeymooned in Spain, Italy, and France for two weeks total in 1946. In 1947, Thomas Fletcher returned to Harvard College and graduated Cum laude in 1949 with a degree in international relations. He returned to his position in 1950 as Captain in the Marine Raiders and served with distinction in Korea, during which he wrote to Mary and his parents any time he could. When he returned home in 1953, he was again greeted warmly by his family and as a hero by his country. From 1953 to 1964, Thomas and Mary remained happily married in their home in Massachusetts. Their house was a favorite among visitors, as Thomas regaled his guests with stories and entertained them with music from his guitar and piano, both of which he had learned to play overseas and was exceptionally good at. He was known as an amiable and friendly person to not only friends but to strangers as well, and rarely shied away from giving radio or magazine interviews. He campaigned with John F. Kennedy for the Senate, Governor, and President of the United States, helping shift more New England protestant voters to Kennedy's side.
In 1965, the Vietnam war began and Thomas returned to his post and was immediately sent to South Vietnam where he would serve until 1972. At first, he supported intervention in the conflict in order to fight Communist aggression, but his support of the war waned even in the first few years in the face of U.S. casualties, general inaction, and events like the My Lai Massacre. He returned to a less grateful America than he had in wars previous, but as he stated, "I didn't care. I just wanted to be back home with Mary."
Thomas and Mary had three children. Thomas James Fletcher V, born in 1948, William John Fletcher, born in 1955, and Phoebe Mary Fletcher, born in 1960. Thomas V also served in Vietnam. The family owned a Golden Retriever named Jimmy from 1954 until 1968.
Thomas James IV remained firmly committed to his Protestant faith from his religious upbringing until his death in 1998. Mary's Catholicism rarely became an object and they continued their individual religious practices.
|Distinguished Service Cross w/ four 5/16 inch gold stars||Silver Star Medal|
|2nd row||Bronze Star Medal w/ "V" device||Legion of Merit w/ "V" device w/ one 5/16 inch gold star||Purple Heart Medal|
|3rd row||European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal w/ seven 3/16 inch gold stars w/ Arrowhead device||World War II Victory Medal||Army of Occupation Medal w/ "Germany" clasp|
|4th row||Korean Service Medal w/ nine 3/16 inch gold stars w/ Arrowhead device||Vietnam Service Medal w/ eight 3/16 inch gold stars w/ Arrowhead device||National Defense Service Medal|
|5th row||Croix de Guerre w/ Palme||Korean Order of Military Merit, Hwarang Cordon Medal||Vietnamese Gallantry Cross|
Mary and the children were overjoyed at Thomas's decision for retirement. The two lived together in Massachusetts until 1998.
In a television interview Thomas gave in 1978, he for the first time publicly stated that he believed the Vietnam War was, "probably not a good idea." In reality, this was still an understatement of his true belief. For every year until 1986, he visited the 1st Marine Raider Regiment barracks in his home state and shook hands with the men present. In 1982, Thomas placed a wreath on the stone commemorating Civil War hero Captain William T. Vandermeer. He also marched in the Veterans' Day Parade in his hometown in the same green wool service uniform he wore in Paris.
In the 1970s, Thomas Fletcher made the decision to run for congress as a Democrat in Massachusetts's third district. He personally talked to many people, citing his degree in foreign relations, his military service, and his devotion to the people of the state. Fletcher enlisted several of his old compatriots to help him reach voters. He gave speeches and publicly campaigned for months, visiting and patronizing local businesses of many different types. He defeated his Republican opponent by a landslide and was sworn in to the House of Representatives in 1979. His voting record was by and large centre-left, as he had advertised himself, though later in his service he described himself as a "traditionalist" and a "family values Democrat". He left the House in 1985.
Thomas and Mary lived a quiet, mostly uneventful life, with the exception of the occasional interview or visitor. He continued his traditions of marching in local parades until the Veteran's Day Parade in 1998. November 11, 1998 was an especially sunny day, and the elderly Thomas revealed he had strained himself during the march. His health began to rapidly decline. Thomas James Fletcher IV died in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 18, 1998 at the age of 75 years old. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Over 800 people attended his funeral, including the then commander of the 1st Marine Raider Regiment, who gave a speech in his honor. Nearly a third of those who attended the funeral service served with or under him during wartime.Thomas James Fletcher IV's duration of service, heroic actions, and highly competent leadership made him one of the most famous military celebrities of his time, and even more famous to the United States Marine Raider Division. A statue of him stands in a park close to his home in Haverhill, Massachusetts. On the base of the statue reads:
"Colonel Thomas James Fletcher IV, who served his country with unflinching resolve and courage. We the people, who he swore to protect, dedicate this monument to him, that he may live forever in our hearts."