107-year-old Wisconsin WWII veteran personifies gratitude

PIGEON FALLS, Wisc. — The population in Pigeon Falls Wisconsin is 381, but there’s no one here or in the state like Reynolds Tomter.

“Here we go again ready or not,” said Tomter as he prepared to walk into a big celebration for his 107th birthday.

Spend a few minutes with this World War Two Merchant Marine Veteran and you’ll want more. He personifies gratitude.

“I’m blessed. I’ve got friends and I’m thankful,” Tomter added. “I’m experiencing a new thing. I’ve never been this old.”

It’s his favorite one-liner on this day, but with jokes like that, why wouldn’t you want to be in a knotty pine bar in northwest Wisconsin at 7:30 a.m. to celebrate another milestone for Tomter?

TMJ4, Charles Benson

Reynolds Tomter gets a peek at his birthday cake.

Tomter is about to reach another milestone unlike any in his long life. He was invited to the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.

“I’m lucky to have a chance to go,” said Tomter. “I never felt at all that I earned it. I haven’t done anything more than any other GI.”

Tomter is believed to be the oldest living World War Two Merchant Marine in the country. As the ship’s baker and backup gunner, he was on five Atlantic crossings – with one mission: to get the supplies to the troops.

“Ammo, tanks, canons, whatever the area needed,” said Tomter. “You have been assigned a job and you better damn well pitch in and do it.”

He did his job, but after the war was over Reynolds and Mariners were not given veterans status and access to benefits.

“When I got home there weren’t GI benefits of any kind and that hurt,” Tomter recalled.

Decades later, that hurt would be healed when they finally received full veteran status. Then, in 2022, Tomter and Merchant Marines were given the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in World War II.

Wherever he goes, people ask him about the upcoming trip to France.

“I haven’t earned anything to go to France,” Reynolds said. “But the only thing is I’m so damn old.”

He’s so old, there were two birthday parties for him and more one-liners.

So what is the secret to his longevity?

‘I’ll have to say luck,” Tomter said. “Lots of luck and I’ve always had a positive attitude.”

When the time comes to honor him and the other World War Two veterans in Normandy, Tomter will be ready and so will a grateful country.

TMJ4, Charles Benson

Reynolds Tomter is full of jokes and one-liners.

“We all felt obligated when we got into this world war thing,” Tomter said. It was to get in there, get with it. Let’s get the work done and hope we will be winners.”

Tomter was not part of the D-Day invasion but is honored to be joining other World War Two veterans in Normandy for the momentous June 6th anniversary.

His son Bud will be traveling with him for all of the activities and will be right by his Dad every step of the way.  

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