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Tom Askins, decorated Marine and public servant, dies

Tom Askins, who died last week at age 81, was a Marine who was wounded in a critical battle in the Korean War. He later became a firefighter, a sheriff’s deputy and a familiar figure at the St. Charles County Courthouse, where he was a longtime bailiff.

Friends claimed he looked like the late Howard Hughes, one of the world’s richest men. If so, that was because Mr. Askins was a distant relative.

In a lawsuit, his attorney called him an heir to the fortune.

Thomas Carl Askins died Jan. 31, 2013, at St. Joseph Health Center in St. Charles after a heart attack, a friend said Friday.

He grew up in St. Louis, left school after the eighth grade and joined the Marines as soon as he was eligible. He fought in Korea, and friends said he was hospitalized for injuries he received at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, considered a decisive battle in the war.

In the battle, United Nations forces — dubbed “The Chosin Few” — were outnumbered and encircled by Chinese troops. The UN forces, including Mr. Askins’ unit, managed to break free and inflict what was described as crippling losses on the enemy.

Mr. Askins was decorated and, after spending time in a hospital in Hawaii, returned to St. Louis. He worked as an officer on the St. Charles Police Department, a firefighter with the St. Charles Fire Department, and a deputy sheriff for the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department.

He was a court bailiff during the last part of his career in the sheriff’s office. He escaped serious injury when a chandelier fell on him in the old courthouse. He retired in 1993.

He was devoted to his second wife, Janet, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When he was unable to care for her at home, he visited her daily at a nursing facility.

He eventually sold his home because he was unable to take care of it and spend so much time taking care of his wife, said Gail Logsdon, a longtime neighbor.

He was handy with tools. He repaired cars and motorcycles, sewed and made western-style clothing, made holsters from leather and created white pistol grips from an old toilet seat.

A friend described him as, “A kind man who you could always depend on, but the kind of man you would want with you in a gun fight.”

As for being an heir of Hughes, Mr. Askins recalled that Hughes had visited an aunt of Askins’ in St. Charles in the 1920s. Even then he had been worth millions.

Mr. Askins was philosophical about not winning any of the Hughes fortune. He said his effort had allowed him to learn things about his family that he never knew before. “I also have birth records of my mother and other members of my family that I never had before. It’s been interesting.”

A graveside military funeral will be held at 9 a.m. today at St. Charles Memorial Gardens, 3950 West Clay Street, St. Charles.

Survivors include a son, Norman Askins of St. Charles; two daughters, Nancy Cobb of St. Charles County and Connie Trigg of Troy, Mo.; two sisters, Evelyn Trautwein of St. Peters and Colleen Delgman of Florissant; a brother, Leroy Askins of Robertsville, Mo.; and nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Janet Askins died in 2003.
 

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