Heggen, Thomas, LT

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Last Rank
Last Primary NEC
619X-Limited Duty Officer - Surface Communications
Last Rating/NEC Group
Limited Duty Officer
Primary Unit
1944-1945, USS Virgo (AKA-20)
Service Years
1942 - 1945
Official/Unofficial US Navy Certificates
Order of the Golden Dragon
Panama Canal
Plank Owner

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Barbara Billings-Family to remember Heggen, Thomas (author of Mr Roberts), LT.

If you knew or served with this Sailor and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
Contact Info
Home Town
Fort Dodge, Webster County, Iowa
Last Address
New York (Manhattan)

Date of Passing
May 19, 1949
Location of Interment
Lakewood Cemetery - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Plot: 250B-10-5.5

 Official Badges 

WW II Honorable Discharge Pin

 Unofficial Badges 

Order of the Shellback US Naval Reserve Honorable Discharge Order of the Golden Dragon

 Military Association Memberships
Famous People Who Served
  2015, Famous People Who Served [Verified] - Assoc. Page

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 Duty Stations
USS South Dakota (BB-57)Direct Commission Officer School (Faculty Staff)US NavyUSS Virgo (AKA-20)
  1942-1942, Sp(Q), USS South Dakota (BB-57)
  1942-1943, Sp(Q), Direct Commission Officer School (Faculty Staff)
  1944-1944, USS Rotanan (AK-108)
  1944-1945, USS Virgo (AKA-20)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1944-1944 Western Caroline Islands Operation/Battle of Peleliu
  1945-1945 World War II/Asiatic-Pacific Theater/Iwo Jima Operation
  1945-1945 World War II/Asiatic-Pacific Theater/Okinawa Gunto Operation
 Colleges Attended 
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
  1937-1941, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
 Other News, Events and Photographs
  Mister Roberts, Movie Trivia5
  Author of Mister Roberts9
  Mister Roberts2
  May 21, 2014, General Photos
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Thomas Orlo Heggen 
U.S. Navy, December 1941 - December 1945

Navy Veteran, Author, Playwright. Thomas Orlo Heggen's novel "Mister Roberts" (1946) was conceived during WWII while Heggen served aboard several USS Navy ships. The play "Mister Roberts" opened on Broadway in February 1948.  The story resonanted with a generation of young men who  had given years of their lives in service to the country they loved. 

The hero of "Mister Robers," Lt. Douglas Roberts, is a young officer aboard the USS Reluctant, a fictional Navy cargo ship stationed in the backwaters of the South Pacific during the final months of World War II. Roberts yearns for a battleship assignment but finds himself defending his crew from a tyrannical Captain and supporting their daily struggle against maddening boredom. Heggen wrote that the Reluctant ran  "
from Tedium to Apathy and back again, with an occasional side trip to Monotony." Filled with humor, pathos, and  vivid characters, "Mister Roberts" became one of the most popular stories about The Greatest Generation's WWII experience.

Orlo Thomas (Tom) Heggen was born on December 23, 1919 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Tom's grandparents were born in Norway.  His parents were raised on small Iowa farms, with large extended families nearby. As a child Tom dreamed of going to college and becoming a writer. An older cousin, Wallace Stegner, encouraged Tom to dream and maintain his passion for writing.  

During the Depression the Heggen family relocated to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where Tom's father found work. Tom graduated from Classon High School in Oklahoma City in 1936. After highschool, 
Tom attended public colleges in Oklahoma before enrolling at the University of Minnesota. Tom majored in Journalism and wrote a weekly column in "The Minnesota Daily," blending humor with opinions on campus and national issues. As a college student, Tom was deeply moved by Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" and admired  authors Earnest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mark Twain.  

After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1941, Tom was hired by Reader's Digest as an Editoral Assistant. On 12-15-1941, immediately after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Tom enlisted in the US Navy. He was commissioned as a Navy Lieutenant on 8-3-1942. Tom served as a Communications Officer, responsible for supervision of radio and signal communications, during most of the war.  He also served as a Division Officer on a Cargo ship, the USS Rotanin (AKA 108) in 1944, before joining the USS Virgo, an Attack Cargo ship, in July 1944.  Heggen served in the Atlantic before joining the Pacific fleet, participating in campaigns at  Guam, Pleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Heggen received the American Threat Commendation and American Defense E.T.O, Pacific- 4 stars.  Heggen served on the following ships: USS South Dakota, USS Salinas A019, USS Agawam AOG, USS Rotanin AKA108 and USS Virgo AKA.  

After being discharged from active to reserve duty in December 1945, Heggen returned to New York and began revising and connecting his stories into a novel. "Mister Roberts" was published by Houghton-Mifflin in 1946. By 1949 more than 850,000 copies of "Mister Roberts" had sold.  

Tom Heggen collaborated with Broadway Director Joshua Logan to write the play version of "Mister Roberts."  The play opened on February 18, 1948 at Broadway's Alvin Theater and  ran on and off Broadway for many years. Henry Fonda was the  first Mister Roberts and was perfect in the role. WWII veterans who attended performances of "Mister Roberts" saw themselves and their friends in the play. There were critics who objected to the play's bawdy language but Heggen felt that the story would lose it's authenticity if the sailors voices didn't ring true.

On May 19, 1949 Thomas Heggen was found dead from an overdose of Barbiturates. Heggen suffered from severe insomnia, dating back to his service days, and used Barbiturates to fall sleep. He was receiving medical treatment for Insomnia and Depression at the time of his death.  

Thomas Heggen's wallet was returned to his family after his death. It contained a photograph of the USS Virgo.  Apparently  Heggen retained a  great fondness for that old Iron Bucket and his shipmates.

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