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Published: Tuesday, 12/10/2002

Marine was Vietnam vet, active in VFW

Thomas John Saam, 61, a Marine Corps veteran who helped recover remains believed to be two American servicemen missing in Vietnam, died Saturday of complications from a heart transplant at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

Mr. Saam grew up in Toledo, where he attended Libbey and Whitmer high schools. He joined the Marines in his senior year. He served 10 years in the Marines, completing two tours in Vietnam and another in the Dominican Republic.

“He was a very proud American,” his wife, Barbara, said.

Mr. Saam was active with the VFW. He was the POW-MIA chairman of the state VFW in the early 1990s and POW-MIA and Americanism chairman at VFW Post 3265 in North Toledo for the last decade.

Last year, Mr. Saam and two other local veterans traveled to Vietnam and retrieved what are believed to be the remains of two U.S. soldiers missing in action during the Vietnam War. A Vietnamese-American man whose family had the remains contacted Mr. Saam and arranged to hand them over.

The United Auto Workers union presented Mr. Saam with the Walter P. Reuther Distinguished Service Award for his help in recovering the remains.

Mr. Saam was on the board of directors for Development of Vietnam Endeavors, a Toledo charity dedicated to improving conditions in Vietnam. The group plans to build a preschool in central Vietnam and name it after Mr. Saam.

A forklift driver at GM Powertrain for 26 years, Mr. Saam was an elected trustee in his local UAW and served as his regional veterans' representative for the past six years.

“He was just one of those guys who wanted to help somebody,” Oscar Bunch, president of UAW Local 14, said. “Everybody that had anything to do with him just loved him.”

Mr. Saam received a heart transplant in 1995. He did public speaking for the American Red Cross and the Life Connection of Ohio to urge people to donate organs. He donated his corneas and leg tissue for burn victims, his wife said.

He volunteered for the American Heart Association, speaking at local schools to educate students about the dangers of smoking.

Surviving are his wife, Barbara; sons, Thomas, Jr., and Jeremy; daughters, Laura Siebarth and Jamie Saam; brothers, Alfred and Michael; sister, Carolyn Nadolny, and six grandchildren.

Services will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Point Place. The body will be in the David R. Jasin Funeral Home, Point Place, after 2 p.m. today. VFW services will be at 7 p.m. today in the funeral home.

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