Master Chief Thomas D. McAdams entered the U.S. Coast Guard on 7 December 1950, at Seattle, Washington. He retired on 1 July 1977, while serving as the Officer-in-Charge of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay, Newport, Oregon.
Master Chief McAdams is noted for his seamanship in small boat operations, especially motor lifeboats. His career spanned working with 36-foot and 44-foot motor lifeboats and he helped in the design of the modern 47-foot motor lifeboat. Throughout the U.S. Coast Guard, his exploits in the high surf of the Pacific Northwest are legendary. He is one of the few people in the service to receive both the Gold Life Saving Medal and the Coast Guard Medal. He earned the Gold Lifesaving Medal for a case in 1957 at Yaquina Bay in which, McAdams, as the coxswain of a 52-foot motor lifeboat, helped save four people capsized in the surf. At one point, McAdams entered the water to help in the rescue. He earned the Coast Guard Medal for a 1968 case near Umpqua River, Winchester, Oregon, where, as coxswain of a 44-foot motor lifeboat, fighting 35-knot winds and 12-15-foot breakers, he rescued three people. McAdams also received the Legion of Merit, the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, the Coast Guard Achievement Medal, and Coast Guard Unit Commendation Ribbon. His civilian awards include an Oregon Governors Award, the City of Newport, Oregon, Valor Award and the Newport Chamber of Commerce Award for Civil Action.
In 1972 the Commandant of the Coast Guard at that time, Admiral Chester R. Bender, presented him with the first Coxswain's Insignia ever issued, because, as Admiral Bender noted: "[BMCM McAdams] has a tremendous record of rescues . . . and that he truly represents all Coast Guardsmen." BMCM McAdams commanded many of the small boat stations in the Pacific Northwest, including the Coast Guard's Motor Lifeboat School at Cape Disappointment, Ilwaco, Washington, where he wrote the textbook used to train future lifesavers. He retired from the Coast Guard in 1977.
Thomas D. McAdams served for many years as an officer in the Newport Volunteer Fire Department. As of 2005, he continues to serve in the fire department.
If one uses publicity as a measure of fame, then Master Chief McAdams is the most famous enlisted person who ever served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He appeared in Life, National Geographic, True and other national publications. He appeared on numerous television programs, including "To Tell The Truth" and the "Who's Who" feature of Charles Kuralt's "On the Road" program.
Click here to access BMCM McAdams' oral history.