May 8, 1995
On the anniversary of V-E Day, anyone old enough to remember that historic event in 1945 inevitably wanders back, in his or her memory to that day when the war in Europe ended, bringing to a close one of the costliest wartime engagements ever experienced by this country. World War II did not end with V-E day. The war in the Pacific raged on for three more months, but Victory in Europe made it clear the Allies were going to prevail.
If you were in the military then or if you had a close friend or relative in the service, you have your own special memories. I was in the Army in the Pacific, but before V-E Day arrived a very dear friend of mine had already given his life on the battlefield of Europe.
David Thomas and I were born about six weeks apart and we lived across the street from each other until the day in 1943 when we left Perry for Army service, at the age of 18. We wound up at the same basic training center, Camp Fannin, Texas, just outside Tyler, but our paths parted later that summer. Before we were sworn in, both of us had qualified for the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), which meant that after basic we were to be sent to a college or university to work toward a degree in engineering. David went to Rutgers University in New Jersey and I went to St. Bonaventure University in New York.
When things started going badly for the Allies in Europe, the U.S. had an urgent need for troops. The ASTP program was virtually dismantled and the student soldiers were shipped out to Infantry divisions. David was sent to Fort Carson, Colo., to join the 104th division, the "Timberwolves," and I was sent to Fort Rucker, Ala., to join the 98th division, the "Mohawks." The 98th was being readied for the Pacific theater but the 104th was to be sent to Europe.
David's leadership qualities surfaced quickly and he became a rifle platoon sergeant in short order. The 104th was sent to Europe to help repulse the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge and David led his men into battle. He earned a Silver Star for gallantry but he never knew that. It was awarded posthumously.
David was the son of a Presbyterian minister, Rev. David Thomas, and his mother, Eula Sleeth Thomas, had been a missionary to India before she was married. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas were two of the most saintly people I am likely to know in this life, and David was from the same mold. He undoubtedly could have received deferment as a conscientious objector if he had chosen to request it, but after a long inner struggle he elected to become a combat soldier. W. K. Leatherock, publisher of The Journal, wrote in his personal column after David was killed: "(David) no doubt felt that the moral principles involved in (the) war, principles that he well understood, were something that called for the effort of all men who stood for the things for which he had always stood -- both as a boy and man."
After the war was over and the lucky ones returned home, Rev. and Mrs. Thomas gave me a birthday present which I still treasure. It was a book, "The Bounty Trilogy," which David had owned, plus another book that he had requested but never received, a collection of "The Sad Sack" cartoons from Army cartoonist George Baker. The Bounty stories have always been favorites of mine and I have chuckled at the Sad Sack's travails over and over. I take both copies off the shelf regularly and they help me remember a life that was lost more than half a century ago, and I cannot help but wonder what a contribution David Thomas and the thousands of others like him would have made to mankind if they had been spared.
Those are some of the reflections that fill my thoughts on this anniversary of the Allied Victory in Europe.