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Joseph Thomas Jr.

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial


Herbert Joseph Thomas Jr.

"for extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty"
Medal of Honor

Herbert Joseph Thomas Jr. was born on February 8, 1918 in Columbus, Ohio to Herbert J. Thomas and Ida Smallwood. He had two older sisters: Ida and Audrey Thomas. The Thomas family did not stay in Ohio very long but moved to South Charleston, West Virginia when Thomas Jr. was seven years old. As a young man, Thomas experienced some difficult times, including the death of his mother when he was 13 years old. He overcame this tragic loss to become a star halfback for South Charleston High School's football team. After graduating from South Charleston High School, his skills on the football field earned him a scholarship to Greenbrier Military School and to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Herbert J. Thomas excelled on the college field the same way he had on South Charleston's football field. His outgoing personality and skill caused him to become a leader for the team and a beloved friend to the players. He played for Virginia Polytechnic School's freshmen football team in the fall of 1937. The following year, he had proven his worth and moved up to varsity. His senior year made headlines throughout the country when he led the team in pass receptions and scoring. He was the leading scorer in the state and second in the Southern Conference, which earned him a position on the Virginia All-State College football eleven, a place in the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame and an All- American mention. Herbert J. Thomas was not just an athlete, but he was a business major, an active member of the Business Club and an outstanding cadet.

Two months before graduation, Herbert J. Thomas left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps but later transferred to the Marines because many of his friends were Marines. Just like his performance on the field, Thomas excelled in the military, being promoted to the rank of sergeant. On November 7, 1943, he advanced his squad through the jungle growth terrain of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific. They had destroyed two machine gun crews when Sergeant Thomas discovered a third. He ordered an attack on the third gun right after he had thrown a grenade; however, the grenade did not hit the enemy but instead, hit some vines and bounced back towards Thomas and his men. Without time to throw the live grenade back towards the Japanese, Sergeant Thomas made the ultimate sacrifice by hurling himself onto the grenade. He saved the lives of all of the men in the squad, who repaid the sacrifice by continuing his order and destroying the third machine gun.

Grave of
Herbert Joseph
Thomas Jr.
Grave of Herbert J. Thomas Jr.
The heroic sacrifice of Herbert J. Thomas earned him to be posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. He was the first West Virginian awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II. On March 26, 1945, the government named a destroyer, the U.S.S. Herbert J. Thomas, in his memory, which his sister Audrey christened. In addition, his town honored his memory by naming the hospital that opened on December 9, 1946 after him.


West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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