Skip Navigation
Michael Dale Thomas
Courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Michael Dale Thomas

"Grant me courage to serve others; for in service there is true life."

Cesar Chavez

Michael Dale Thomas was born on October 12, 1948, the youngest child of Alonzo Calvin Thomas and Marshlene Alja Hensley in Huntington, Cabell County, West Virginia. Wanda Louise Thomas-Perkins (1941-2011) was the oldest child, and William Lee Thomas (1943-1972) was the middle child. Growing up, Michael was a Cub Scout, and he enjoyed playing football with his childhood friend Larry Sizemore. According to Larry, he went to elementary, junior high, and high school with Michael. Before a Cub Scout meeting, they played football in his backyard, where Larry got a broken leg and six months hospital time out of the deal.

Michael was born and raised in Huntington, where he lived on 4th Street in the Altizer neighborhood. While in high school, he played baseball and wrestled. He managed the football team, the wrestling team, and was the track athletic statistician. He graduated from Barboursville High School in 1966.

After World War II, the French controlled Vietnam; however, a Vietnamese communist, Ho Chi Minh, wanted freedom for Vietnam, so he started a rebellion against the French. After the Vietnamese went to battle with the French and won, the country divided into South Vietnam and North Vietnam. North Vietnam wanted communism and South Vietnam was anti-communism. The United States was aware of the separation and knew South Vietnam had no way of beating North Vietnam. The U.S. entered the Vietnam War on March 8, 1965, because President Johnson wanted to help South Vietnam and prevent the spread of communism among Asia. North Vietnam was much more powerful than the South. American soldiers were needed to help the people of South Vietnam. Thousands of men were enlisting and getting drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.

In 1967, Michael enlisted in the United States Navy. Michael's Military Occupational Specialty was HN-8404-Medical Field Service Technician/FMF Combat Corpsman. His rank was Hospitalman (HN)/E-3. Michael provided medical assistance and services to the Navy and Marine Corps. His tour of duty began on September 15, 1968, in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam, where he was assigned to H & S (Headquarters & Service) Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade, III Marine Amphibious Force, Fleet Marine Force Pacific.

For the Marines, the month of January 1969, was like December, which was characterized by continued heavy enemy movement for the 1st Battalion. Emphasis was placed on small unit activities such as patrols, observation posts, listening posts, dog teams, and killer ambushes. These activities were implemented throughout the AO (Area of Operation) to deny the enemy freedom of movement and to interdict enemy infiltration routes. The battalion deployed forces within assigned AO with particular attention to the Rocket Belt and with one Company assigned specific responsibility for the Elephant Valley's avenues of approach. They conducted high intensity patrols and surveillance activities within the Rocket Belt while providing complete coverage of approach routes and probable rocket/mortar launch sites within the AO. For the month of January, the unit recovered 28 enemy bodies, captured 10 POWs, and detained 39 enemy soldiers, who were turned over to intelligence units.

According to Jack Klein, who was in Delta Company at the same time, his unit "was in such a position as to be the first line of defense from attacks from north and west of Da Nang. Elephant Valley was where Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock spent five days picking off members of an NVA BN. Everything north of the river and west of us was owned by the NVA. We put out multiple nightly ambushes. As those of us who have experienced combat know, 99 percent is waiting, 1 percent is an adrenalin filled hell. Most of our ambushes resulted in the killing of Viet Cong."

On January 11, 1969, at approximately 1915 hours, Alpha 3-3 spotted a large group of enemy moving in front of their ambush site. Allowing the point element of eight enemy to pass, Alpha 3-3 opened fire on the main body of 15 enemy. Heavy return fire resulted in one Navy killed in action (KIA) and four Marines wounded in action (WIA). Alpha 3-1 also came under enemy fire when moving to reinforce Alpha 3-3, and cut off the enemy, resulting in two Marines WIA. Upon sweeping the area, only drag marks were found. Unfortunately, HN Michael Dale Thomas was the one Navy personnel killed on this fateful day.

Michael's remains were returned to the U.S., where he was buried on January 24, 1969, at the White Chapel Memorial Gardens in Barboursville, Cabell County, West Virginia. He never married nor had any children, but was remembered by his remaining family members, especially his nephew and namesake, Michael Dale Perkins. Michael is remembered on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, where his name is inscribed on Panel 35 West, Line 73. He is also remembered at the West Virginia Veterans Memorial in Charleston, West Virginia.

On January 18, 2007, the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 16. This resolution renamed the Russell Creek Bridge that spans the Guyandotte River and connects U. S. Route 60 East with Riverside Drive and 5th Street in Altizer Addition as the "Michael Dale Thomas Memorial Bridge." Ironically, Michael Dale Thomas lived on 4th Street in Altizer, less than two blocks from the bridge.

A Purple Heart recipient, Michael Dale Thomas is buried in White Chapel Memorial Gardens, Barboursville, West Virginia.

Article prepared by Ty'Kenya Woodard, Quanyce Johnson, and MAJ (Ret) T. Brad McGee, George Washington High School JROTC
March 2020


Michael Dale Thomas

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.

Veterans Memorial Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Archives and History