Herbert Joseph Thomas never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.
He was born on February 9, 1918 in Ohio. His parents Herbert and Ida were both born in New Jersey. His father worked in a glassworks factory in 1920. By 1930 he was an assistant manager for a sheet glass company in West Virginia. Later he worked as a shift supervisor. Hebert had an older sister. By 1940 Herbert had completed two years of college at Virginia Tech where he excelled in football as a record setting receiver.
He enlisted in the Army Air Forces on March 3, 1942, but transferred to the Marines to be with friends. He became a sergeant in Company B, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
The 3rd MD was created in September 1942 from elements of the 2nd Marine Division. It first engaged the enemy in November 1943 at the Battle of Bougainville. Sgt. Thomas was killed on the seventh day of the battle while the Americans attacked the Japanese at the Koromokina River. The circumstances of his death are detailed in his Medal of Honor citation:
Although several of his men were struck by enemy bullets as he led his squad through dense jungle undergrowth in the face of severe hostile machine gun fire, Sergeant Thomas and his group fearlessly pressed forward into the center of the Japanese position and destroyed the crews of two machine guns by accurate rifle fire and grenades.
Discovering a third gun more difficult to approach, he carefully placed his men closely around him in strategic positions from which they were to charge after he had thrown a grenade into the emplacement. When the grenade struck vines and fell back into the midst of the group, Sergeant Thomas deliberately flung himself upon it to smother the explosion, valiantly sacrificing his life for his comrades.
Inspired by his selfless action, his men unhesitatingly charged the enemy machine gun and, with fierce determination, killed the crew and several other nearby defenders. The splendid initiative and extremely heroic conduct of Sergeant Thomas in carrying out his prompt decision with full knowledge of his fate reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
His grave is at Sunset Memorial Park, South Charleston, West Virginia.
A naval destroyer and hospital were named in his honor.
Last year on this date I profiled B-17 waist gunner Smith J. Young, 100th Bombardment Group. You can read about Smith here.
On behalf of the fallen, if you would like to see more people become aware of this project to honor the WW2 fallen, be sure to share with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks for your interest!
I created this video to explain why I started this project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXt8QA481lY.
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