Introducing a new Sun column: Veterans’ Voices

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Bill Thomas

Editor’s note:

The Sun Newspaper is proud to present the first issue of a new column titled Veterans Voices. It will be devoted to all military veterans who have ever served in our American Armed Forces. Each column will be one veteran’s brief life story, his youth, military service, and as a veteran. To kick this off, we present the military biography of William J. Thomas of Rossmoor. Thomas will contact the veterans assemble the stories as they are produced and his story is presented here as an example of what the column will entail.

– Dennis Kaiser, Sun editor

Veteran Bill Thomas:

Bill Thomas was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1923. He began his entrepreneurial endeavors at age 8, in 1931, during the Great Depression. He sold spices and condiments door-to-door. Then he sold Liberty and Saturday Evening Post magazines. His elementary school years included “regular” school, Greek school, and violin lessons.

Bill played in the school orchestras for five years. At age 16, he increased his Detroit Times paper route from 46 to 106 customers in five weeks to win an all-expenses paid trip to the 1939 New York World’s Fair where he spent two days at the Fair and also saw the first showings of “Gone With The Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Bill also watched the “Rockettes” perform in Rockefeller Center and also saw the Statue of Liberty.

Due to the poverty and strife in 1940, at age 17, Bill dropped out of the eleventh-grade to join the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, in northern Michigan where he planted many trees, fought three forest fires, and began working in the Forest Ranger Station.

Thomas returned to Detroit to finish high school but went to work as a riveter and spot welder at Cadillac Motor Company to build fighter planes and bombers for the war effort. He eventually trained 60 “Rosie the Riveters.” That is where he learned about Pearl Harbor.

Thomas’s Military Service

In February, 1943, Bill enlisted in the U. S. Army. He received his basic training at Camp Gordon, Ga. He volunteered to join the 938th Field Artillery Battalion as they were scheduled to leave for overseas duties.

After seeing the Statue of Liberty for the second time, Thomas joined 6,000 other men and sailed on a converted Italian luxury liner to land in Oran, Africa.

The next phase was to land in Naples, Italy where the Allies fought all the way up to Mounte Casino, where their advance was halted by the German forces.

The port of Anzio was selected as the place to land our troops for an amphibious landing.

Fierce battles were fought there from February to June 4, when the allies freed Rome.

During this time, Thomas served as a telephone and radio wireman and eventually became an artillery forward observer. The rest of his 565 days of combat time was to make another amphibious landing in Southern France, up to Alsace Lorraine where his unit crossed the Rhine River into Germany.

The worst experience was to smell the odors that emanated from the concentration camp at Dachau. The greatest joy was when the war in Europe ended, in May, 1945.

Thomas As A Veteran

After his Honorable Discharge in October, 1945, Thomas worked at a series of miscellaneous jobs. In May, 1948, Bill and his longtime buddy. Perry, enjoyed a three week trip across America. They spent all their money seeing the sights, went broke, and had to stay in California.

Thomas went to Long Beach City College on the G.I. Bill for courses in Business Management, and eventually became the students’ store manager for four years.

In May, 1951, Bill drove to Durham, N.C. to marry Soula. They honeymooned across the USA in a brand new Cadillac. Meanwhile, before the marriage, Bill bought a 3-bedroom house in Lakewood, on the G.I. Bill. In the next 10 years, with three children, they needed a bigger house, and moved to Rossmoor.

In 1955, Bill became an envelope designer and salesman, at which he worked for 14 years.

Thomas went on to qualify for insurance and securities licenses and became a financial planner for 14 years; then switched to being a small business consultant for 11 years.

Thomas had begun writing articles for his seventh grade school newsletter.

He also wrote many dozens of “love letters” for his buddies in the CCC and the Army they would send to their families and girlfriends.

Thomas’ career in writing was in editing about a dozen newsletters and sending articles to magazines. His fictional autobiography, “Telly’s Torch,” was published in 2001.

He has written five other workbooks and manuals.

Thomas joined the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars more than 15 years ago. He has served three one-year terms as VFW Commander and as Sr. Vice Commander in the American Legion.

As a member in 2004, he designed a 36 x 32 inch bronze plaque to commemorate all the men and women who have ever been in the American Armed Forces. The plaque is mounted on a four-foot-high concrete pedestal on the Seal Beach Pier.

He’ll continue to write this column to honor the veterans and to help the readers know about the men and women who served and protected our country.

Thomas’ next major project will be to help convert a part of Eisenhower Park into a veterans memorial park.

For more information or to become a subject of Veterans’ Voices, send e-mail to Bill Thomas at: bthomasvets@gmail.com.

Introducing a new Sun column: Veterans’  Voices