World War II Soldier Is Declared Dead, Then Celebrates His 100th Birthday 76 Years Later

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

A World War II veteran just celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by his family — 76 years after he was declared dead.

Tom Greenwood served as an engineer during World War II. In 1942, his unit became stuck behind enemy lines in North Africa, and he was captured. The army sent Tom’s parents a telegram, informing them that their only son had been killed in action.

In fact, Tom was very much alive and a prisoner of war. He spent the rest of the war in camps throughout Austria and Italy. After the war, he flew home to his family and married his sweetheart, Marjorie.

On December 29, 2018, Tom turned 100 years old.

So much for being killed at war!

Tom is now a great-grandfather of two. His children, Dave and Sheila, say he never spoke much about the war unless a TV show reminded him of it. As for the secret to his long life? He says it was to “keep breathing.”


Tom Greenwood, a World War II veteran, turned 100 years old on December 29, 2018.

The strange part? He was reported dead to his family members 76 years ago.


Tom served as an engineer in North Africa during the war. In June 1942, he was trapped behind enemy lines near El Alamein. He was captured.

After Tom went missing, he was presumed dead by the military. His parents received a devastating telegram informing them that he’d been killed in action.


In reality, though, Tom was as alive as ever — despite being in a dire situation. He was being held as a prisoner of war in an Italian-run camp called Suani Ben Adem.

He was transferred to multiple other camps in Italy and Austria throughout the duration of the war.

On one occasion, he contracted malaria and went to the hospital, where he had to trade his watch for a hospital bed. A Canadian soldier saved his life with a blood donation.

Tom’s fiancée, Marjorie Hartley, was waiting for him at home throughout the entire war. She never once believed that he was dead.

Sure enough, Tom’s parents received another telegram in August 1942 explaining that their son was actually a prisoner of war.

Imagine the relief!


At one camp in Austria, Tom and his fellow prisoners of war engaged in an uprising and took over the camp.

Soon after, the war ended, and the camp was liberated by the American army. Tom flew back to the US.

When he got home, Tom married his fiancée, Marjorie.

Sadly, she passed away in 2000, after decades of marriage.


The couple had two children together: Sheila, 64, is a retired IT specialist, while Dave, 66, is a retired journalist.


“Dad spoke very little about the war when he came home unless prompted by a TV program,” Dave said.

Tom was discharged from the army in 1946. He went on to run a family garage for many years, then he became a private hire driver.

“He loved his cars and drove until he was 97,” Sheila explained.


Tom celebrated his 100th birthday with three generations of his family by his side.

“I did ask him the other day about the secret to his long life, and he said it was to ‘keep breathing,'” Sheila said.


“Until a few years ago, he would keep himself fit by walking and cutting logs for his fire with a chainsaw,” she added.

“He has smoked a pipe all his life. He wasn’t a big drinker but in later years, he liked a whiskey and dry ginger every evening before he went to bed.”


It’s been a long time since Tom’s days as a prisoner of war. Nonetheless, he must be very thankful to have made it this far.

Happy 100th birthday, Tom!