Greensboro’s Thomas Bros

Lt. Guy Thomas Jr., P-38 Fighter Pilot

Courtesy of Greensboro Historical Museum

Remembered by Jim Scholosser

Among Guy Thomas’ trophies are ones he won in swimming races at Greensboro Country Park Lake, where as a teenager he worked as a lifeguard. Guy also won a five-mile ocean race in Charleston, South Carolina.

Guy was so eager to fight America’s enemies that he enlisted in the army on December 8, 1941, one day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

He Had graduated from Guilford College in 1940 and had been working with thte state Board of Health, intending to go to medical school.

He scored high on his military aptitude tests and was made an aviation instructor in Selma, Alabama. After marriage in Selma in September 1942, he spent two years instructing Air Force cadets. Guy was offered a promotion to Captain and a permanent job in administration, but he wanted an even larger part in the war effort and volunteered for overseas duty. He also wanted to see if he could find his brother Joe, who had been shot down on his first mission on May 6, 1944.

Guy arrived overseas in October 1944, and was shot down on November 26. He suffered a slow, agonizing death that December in Austria. He had bailed out of his P-38 fighter, but it was before seat ejection seats were perfected. He was struck by the tail of the plane. He landed in two feet of snow, where he remained for two hours with broken bones and internal wounds.

He was later taken to a German-controlled hospital and underwent surgery. Guy spoke fluent French and was able to converse with Madame Mallard, a French nurse who was a prisoner. “She would sneak him some medicine, but there was nothing she could do,” says Martha Nayder, Guy’s sister, who lives in Advance, North Carolina, and is the only surviving member of the Thomas family.

After being buried in Austria, Guy Thomas’ body was returned to Greensboro in 1949 and placed in Green Hill Cemetery.

Before he died, Guy Thomas asked the French nurse to arrange for last rites-the Thomas family was among the few Catholics in Greensboro back then. He asked her to send home his watch, ring and ID tag to his wife. When the nurse won her freedom, she carried out Guy’s wishes.

Guy’s mother, Katherine Thomas, befriended the French nurse and sent her blankets and clothing as Madame Ballard was destitute after the war.

There is a contrast in the way the public reacts today to the deaths of soldiers and sailors compared to World War II. When a Green Beret from West Virginia was killed in Afghanistan, the death received widespread newspaper and TV coverage. Military deaths since the war on terrorism began Sept. 11 fortunately have been few, enabling the media to focus on each.

This was not possible during World War II, when an average of about 177 Americans were killed each day. Greensboro, which had a population of about 50,000 in the 1 940s, lost 264 residents in the war.

Still, despite that war’s death toll-about 295,000, roughly the populations of Greensboro and High Point- the odds of surviving the war were great considering 16 million Americans were in uniform.

Imagine, then, the grief of families who lost not one son but two-as in the case of the Thomas brothers. For those families, there was no return to normalcy after the war. Their hurt was compounded when they watched happy homecomings taking place around them. “I don’t think it was bitterness we felt,” Nayder says. “It was just sadness that continues. I have often thought about my brothers and what might have been had they come home.”

Before the war ended, the deaths of the Thomas brothers would be overshadowed by the war deaths of two other brothers from Greensboro, George and William Preddy. They were aviators, like the Thornases and neighbors in Greensboro.

Guy and Joe’s parents, Guy Sr. and Katherine Thomas, lived at 519 Percy St., a block and a half from George Sr. and Clara Preddy on Park Avenue.

At the end of the war, the local Disabled Veterans of America chapter was named for Guy and Joe Thomas.

Copyright 2002 “Freedom’s Heroes” Senior Resources of Guilford

Lt. Joseph S. Thomas, B-24 Navigator

Courtesy of Greensboro Historical Museum

Remembered by Bob Webb

He was a quiet, thoughtftil student. Not the kind of guy that you would expect to be an indomitable, heroic character.

The telegram just said “missing in action.” It was about Martha Thomas Nayder’s brother, Joe.

She was sixteen and home alone the day the telegram arrived. “I opened it and started screaming. One of our neighbors came running over,” she recalls.

With an average of about 177 Americans killed each day in World War II, there were a lot of anonymous heroes. Joe was one of them. He did not survive the war to tell his own story.

While he was quiet, he was definitely a leader. Joe had been a former co-captain of the Greensboro Senior High (now Grimsley) football team. As a teenager, he worked in his father and grandfather’s land auction business, painting signs and displays. He also worked in this capacity for the Carolina Theater.

His sister recalls that after their brother Guy joined the Army Air Corps, Joe drove Guy’s future wife to Selma, Alabama where Guy Thomas was stationed. Guy and his fiancée were married there. They lived in Selma for two years while Guy instructed Air Force cadets.

Joe worked at Walgreens for a couple of years before he enlisted in the Army in 1942. Like his brother before him, Joe scored high on his military aptitude tests and was also made an aviation instructor. He was one of the few men who gained entrance into the Army Air Corps without a college degree.

Joe was transferred to Shreveport, Louisiana Army Air Force Base, and it was there that he met his fiancée, Mary Ann. They planned to marry at the end of his military service.

Joe had a bright future ahead of him. He planned to go on with his education after the war, because he was not only talented in mathematics but also in art, his sister said.

He could have spent the entire war in the United States as an instructor, but the idea of teaching others to fight nagged at him. He asked to be sent overseas. Complying with that wish, he was assigned as navigator on a B-24. Martha recalls that he navigated his B-24 bomber overseas in record time.

“I guess he had to find out for himself what it was like,” said Martha. “He sure found out.”

Joe Thomas arrived in Italy on May 1, 1944. He was killed on his first mission, May 6, 1944.

Two of the bomber’s engines had quit. German fighter planes surrounded the bomber, strafing it. One barrage of machine-gun fire hit Joe, who was in the front gun turret.

Joe Thomas is buried in a national cemetery in St. Louis with fellow crewmen who died with him.

Many of Joe’s friends came by to console his mother. Martha recalls one of his friends saying at the time that he was truly a hero, not only in the military, but also as a civilian. His friends all knew what a leader he was on the high school football team and what a good example he always set for them.

In the News and Record, reporter Jim Schiosser wrote: “Imagine the grief of those families who lost not just one, but two sons, in the war. Messengers with dreadful news knocked twice in 1944 at the Thomas home on Percy Street, first for Joe, and then for his brother Guy.”

Martha Nayder says her mother was devastated by the loss of her only two sons, and that for a long while she was bedridden.

In time, her parents and three sisters finally put their lives back together, but they knew it would never really be the same without Guy and Joe.

Copyright 2002 “Freedom’s Heroes” Senior Resources of Guilford