He wouldn’t back down from a fight

by Josh Lanier

Thomas L. Brotherton is a fighter.

Thomas Brotherton joined the U.S. Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941.

Never one to back down from a bout, the former Golden Gloves boxer joined the U.S. Navy shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

“He comes from that generation of the most persistent and tough people,” his son, Thomas Brotherton Jr, said. “When Pearl Harbor happened, he, like a lot of those guys back then, didn’t hesitate to defend their country.”

Brotherton, 88, of Cornelius, currently lives under constant medical care suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But he remembered his Navy days fondly and spoke of them frequently with his children.

Brotherton served aboard the U.S.S. Leonard Wood, the U.S.S. Charles Carroll and U.S.S Andromeda as a coxswain in North Africa, Italy and in battles during the Pacific campaign.

He drove a landing barge during invasions, one of the more hairy jobs in the Navy. This meant driving large, heavy slow moving boats onto beaches and sandbars and pausing, in many instances while under fire, to drop soldiers off or pick them up.

“This wasn’t an easy job,” his son recalls.

While trying to secure a beach in Italy, Brotherton’s boat was sunk. He swam to shore and fought along side a U.S. Marine detachment for nearly a week before he could secure safe passage back to his ship.

The crew on the ship had already begun the process of clearing out his things from the bunks. He had been listed as missing in action and presumed dead, his son recalls from the stories.

But that wasn’t his only close call.

Once while fighting off Japanese fighter planes, which could inflict grave damage to a ship by strafing the deck with machine gun fire, Brotherton manned an anti-aircraft gun. The guns were prone to overheat, so in between gunfire bursts, it was necessary to give the machine a moment to cool. This bit of information was lost on an overzealous shipmate, who reloaded the magazine into the hot gun in the middle of the fight, and it exploded, killing everyone nearby but Brotherton.

Brotherton left the Navy in 1946. He loved his time in, his family recalls, and loved the men he served beside.

“It really left an impression on us,” his son, Thomas Brotherton Jr, said. “If he were still able today, he’d probably still be telling those stories.”

The Lincoln County native married Betty Sherrill of Cornelius after returning home. They had four children, Thomas, Steve, Sheila and Pam. Both of his sons joined the military, something he was always proud of, his son recalls.

“It was an honor to have a dad like that,” Thomas said. “I think anyone who had a father who served during World War II knows what I’m talking about.”

He taught himself to become a surveyor and worked his way through the ranks of Mecklenburg County Building Inspections office, becoming an Assistant Building Chief. He retired form the county in 1989.

Never one to pass up a good opportunity to meet new people, Brotherton joined several civil organizations like the Masons and the Shriners.

He has nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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