VERSAILLES, Mo. - Hometown boy Tommy Capps is being honored as one of five finalists in the Dickies American Hero of the Year Contest and is only a few hundred votes away from first place.
Capps was drafted in 1966 after dropping out of high school at 18. He served the U.S. Army in Vietnam, where he was wounded in action during a mission to search and destroy enemy weapon caches only three months and a day into his service as a combat infantryman. He lost his left eye and part of his left arm, as well as suffering nerve damage to his face from shrapnel. Capps also received the Army Commendation Medal.
"His military career was pretty short, but he is lucky to be alive," said Capps' wife, Teresa.
After returning from the war, Capps returned to his sophomore year of high school, graduating at age 21, and entered a career in law enforcement. During his career, he worked as a deputy sheriff, chief of police and investigative detective before spending 13 years with the Missouri State Technical Assistance Team investigating sexual abuse and murders of children. He retired in 2010.
Since the announcement of the finalists, people from Capps' past have been contacting him to say how deserving they believe he is, Teresa said, which she attributes largely to his humility.
"He just treated people like he wanted to be treated. He never acted like he was better than anybody else," Teresa said. "All of his friends always compared him to Andy Griffith - he was just one of those country guys who could sit down and use his common sense."
Teresa submitted an essay to nominate him for the award in May when she saw an ad for the contest online.
"I've always thought that his life story was very unique and very interesting," she said. "It's pretty inspiring, too, because he came back from Vietnam missing an eye and having been in combat for three solid months."
Although he is now aware that he is a finalist, the honor was initially a surprise for Capps.
"I had put Tom's phone number on the story, and I forgot to tell him that I entered him," Teresa said. "I heard him on the phone saying, "I didn't enter a contest!'"
Capps is currently in second place for the honor and trails by fewer than 500 votes.
"It would just be a wonderful honor to be the American Hero of the Year," Teresa said about her husband. "Everybody is deserving that's a finalist."
Votes can be submitted daily at militaryhero.com/vote until Aug. 1. Dickies will award $25,000 to the grand prize winner and $1,000 to each of the other four finalists.