Photo credits: H. Heilbrunn for Greenville Online
Tomie Louis Gaines (pictured) was born in Hartwell, Georgia on November 3, 1922, to Sally Gaines Glenn and Fred Glenn.
Gaines served with the last of the Buffalo Soldiers, the nineteenth-century regiments formed soon after the Civil War, in the early twentieth century. Gaines served in the United States Army’s 27th Cavalry Regiment (Horse) (Colored), 5th Cavalry Brigade, and 2nd Cavalry Division from March 1943 to December 1945.
Gaines served as a doctor in Italy, Japan, and the Philippines during the war. On D-Day, he treated soldiers on the beaches of Normandy, stitched the wounded in an Italian field hospital, and was wounded by German bombers in the aftermath of the invasion. He was noted for treating enemy troops with the same care and regard as he accorded American soldiers.
Gaines resided in Nicholtown, a largely African American neighborhood in Greenville, South Carolina, after his release from the army, and worked for a variety of firms, including Transit Homes, Inc., the Arrow Shirt Company, and a building cleaning service. He was also a truck driver and a retired painter. He married Clara Mae Smith in 1965, and they welcomed three offspring.
Gaines had been a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post #6734 his whole life.
He was heavily active in all of their activities and events. He was also a lifelong member of the Post’s renowned Honor Guard, and until shortly before his death, he manipulated and shot the rare World War II M-1 rifles with drill-team accuracy at veterans’ burial rites.
“Buffalo Soldier, the living legend!” his buddies would yell whenever Gaines entered the Post’s building.
He would only mention that the war hurt in talks regarding his military experience, which he preferred not to discuss.
“It turned boys into men and left scars both above and below the surface. It hurts sometimes. It’s not the matter of fact of who did what, as long as it’s over.” he reportedly said to an interviewer once.
Tomie L. Gaines died on February 14, 2016, in Greenville, at the age of ninety-three. His bushy mustache and passion for fast driving are remembered by several of his friends and relatives. He was bursting with energy and ideas, and he made it a point to attend every Veterans Day event he could.
He was a big fan of boxing and was always up for hand-to-hand combat.
His son, Tommy L. Gaines Jr., once remarked, “When he got done battling, he always had his hand out.”
Tomie Louis Gaines was survived by his wife of fifty-one years, Clara Mae Smith, daughter Cynthia Hudson, a second son, Jesse Williams, who predeceased his father, five grandchildren, and a godson named Jimmy Martin.