Thomas Mamula, a caregiver who was an Air Force medic in the Vietnam War and a registered nurse in Sacramento, died Sept. 12 with congestive heart failure and lung disease, his family said. He was 76.
Mr. Mamula devoted his life to serving his country and helping others in war and peace. He joined the Air Force in 1954, trained as a medic and was stationed in South Korea and the Philippines. He volunteered for three tours of duty in Vietnam.
"He always said, 'I'm a single guy,' and he would take the place of somebody else who had a family," said his sister Nancy Vaughan. "He was always there to help anybody. No matter what the situation, you could count on him."
Mr. Mamula cared for combat troops in Vietnam including his brother Robert, a soldier who was wounded in fighting and flew with them on transport planes to U.S. hospitals. He rose to master sergeant rank and received the Air Medal for service under hazardous conditions. He later served as a noncommissioned officer in charge of the clinic at McClellan Air Force Base and retired in 1979.
He studied at American River College, passed a state test to be a registered nurse and spent more than 20 years caring for sick and elderly patients at Sacramento area medical facilities and skilled nursing homes. During the early 1990s, he was one of a few male nurses at Sutter General Hospital.
"He held his own with all the women," said Barbara Alvarado, a licensed vocational nurse. "He just got in there and did his job. He was very softspoken and kind, and you could tell he really cared about his patients."
Born in 1935 in Pittsburgh, Thomas Mark Mamula was the eldest of four children raised by a law enforcement officer and a homemaker. He grew up wanting to be a doctor because his father had medical problems and died a year after Mr. Mamula finished high school.
He married his wife, Kandee Mamula, in 1974, raised three children and settled in Citrus Heights. He was an active member and volunteer usher at The Rock of Roseville Church. He loved to cook and made "mystery pancakes" with a special secret ingredient every Saturday morning for his family.
"He was all about serving others: his country, his patients, his wife and children and grandchildren," Kandee Mamula said. "That was the theme of his life."
Quiet and pensive, Mr. Mamula rarely spoke about wartime experiences in Vietnam. His sister proudly kept a 1971 clipping of a front-page newspaper photo that shows him carrying a stretcher with a freed U.S. prisoner of war to a transport plane in Saigon.
But he dismissed any talk of heroism for his role in saving lives.
"He always said it was no big deal," Vaughan said. "He said he was just doing his job.
"He was a man of few words. If he sent a birthday card, he always just signed it 'Love, Tom.' But you knew exactly what he was saying."