Prairieton, IN, US
U.S. Marine Corps
LCPL, Military Police, Camp LeJeune
10/4/2011, Jacksonville, USA
“Mom, you worry too much,” Tommy Soeurt would often tell his mom.
Like a typical boy, Soeurt loved his mother deeply. Growing up as the “man” of his household for much of his childhood, he was also very protective of his mom. Now, 22 years after he was born, Thomas John Soeurt Jr. is coming home to his mother, the rest of his family and his friends in his home town of Prairieton. Lance Cpl. Thomas John Soeurt Jr. passed away unexpectedly on Oct. 4 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he was serving in his fourth year as a member of the United States Marine Corps. The cause of his death is still undetermined.
Tommy Soeurt Jr. wanted to join the Marines after graduating from Terre Haute South Vigo High School in 2007 because the Marine Corps, in his eyes, was the toughest, most demanding branch of the military, his family said. After finishing boot camp, he wanted badly to be deployed overseas and almost got his wish recently when he was “on call” for duty in Libya. But it was not to be.
“Unexpected” seems to be the right word to describe the young Marine’s death. In recent family photos shared by his mother, Michelle Soeurt Dery, Soeurt appears happy and like someone with a large number of friends and a loving family.
One photo showed a shark Tommy caught while fishing in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii, where he was stationed with the Marines for two years. Other photos showed him with friends dressed in humorous costumes for Halloween or the Christmas holidays.
“He was always goofing off,” Dery said of her son.
But Soeurt had a serious side. After completing his service in the Marines, he intended to return to Indiana and enroll in either Indiana State University or Indiana University, Dery said. There is no reason to believe he would not have striven for a college degree with the same intense determination he brought to his service as a Marine and to his life’s passion, baseball.
“He was a hard charger,” said Kyle Kraemer, who coached Soeurt for three baseball seasons at Terre Haute South. “Everything he did was full speed. That’s certainly something that all coaches appreciate. He didn’t take any plays off. He practiced hard and played hard.”
Soeurt, whom many coaches and fellow players called “Tommy John,” started playing baseball at age 5, his mother said. He played center field and also pitched. He was an outstanding fielder and batter. He famously hit an inside-the-park home run in a critical game as a Babe Ruth ball player.
“He was very, very fast,” Dery said, showing a picture taken by his grandmother of Soeurt stealing second base. The picture shows only a small part of his body and one of his legs. “Too fast for the blink of the camera,” Soeurt’s grandmother wrote on the photograph.
In high school, one of Soeurt’s greatest baseball moments came when he connected on a 3 and 1 pitch for a three-run double during a critical at-bat. Most hitters would have chosen not to swing at a 3 and 1 pitch, Dery said. Not Tommy.
In addition to his mother and two sisters, Tiffany Jaye Soeurt and Cpl. Tori Jo Florek, Soeurt was also very close to his grandparents, who helped his mother raise him. Jim and Pat Hunt still live in Prairieton and were adored by their grandson. A portrait of Soeurt painted by his grandmother hangs on the wall of Dery’s home. Tommy also had a tattoo of a spider on his back shoulder in tribute to his grandfather, a U.S. Navy veteran, who has a similar spider tattoo.
“Tommy respected his grandpa to no end,” Dery said. “He wanted to be just like his grandpa.”
Recently, showing off a new water-proof cell phone, Soeurt telephoned his grandmother from under water, his mom said. His also kept in touch with the rest of his family through almost daily text messages, she said. Communicating was not a problem for Tommy, said Bill Dery, his stepfather.
“He had a lot of friends,” Dery said of her son. “He touched a lot of lives.” What’s more, he was a young man with a bright future and a strong belief in his ability to achieve his goals.
“He was driven,” said his uncle, Mitch Hunt, also of Prairieton and a U.S. Army Iraq War veteran.
Fighting strong emotions, Soeurt’s mother shared one last memento of her son during a Monday interview. It was a small book he wrote and illustrated while still a student at Hoosier Prairie Elementary School. On the last page, Tommy Soeurt wrote that he planned to someday become a professional baseball player and make a lot of money. Why?
“When I retire, I’m going to take care of my wife and my mom,” he wrote.