Former Soldier receives Bronze Star after 61 Years(by Dustin Perry...The Monitor...May 18, 2006)
chance meeting at a local gym led to a 79 year-old former army private with the 165th "Fighting Irish" Infantry Regiment being awarded a Bronze Star....more than six decades after he earned it. El Pasoan Floyd Raymond Thomas was presented the medal, the military's fourth highest individual award for bravery, heroism or meritorious service, during a ceremony Friday at Soldier Hall. A visibly enthusiastic Col. David Abramowitz, commandant of the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy, pinned the medal on the lapel of Thomas' jacket in front of an audience that included Patricia Diane, his wife of 57 years."Sixty-one years later, we finally did it right," said Abramowitz, referring to Floyd's delayed honor.In April 1945, Floyd's unit was sent out to draw enemy fire at the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. The fight left more than 6,000 Japanese soldiers dead, but the casualty rate for Floyd's unit was just as devastating, if not worse. Of the 215 Soldiers in the 165th, only 16 survived. When the war ended, Floyd said he and most of the other Soldiers were not very concerned with medals and awards."When I fulfilled my military obligation, all I was interested in was coming home to the ranch and going hunting and fishing," said Floyd. After getting married and becoming a rancher in New Mexico, Floyd tried to push away all of the memories...both good and bad....associated with his time as a 165th Soldier. "For 10 years after he came back, he had violent nightmares," Diane said of her husband's hardships following the war.It wasn't until Floyd happened to meet William Steven Stegall while the two were working out at an El Paso gym that he even pondered the possibility of whether or not he had any delinquent medals owed to him. Stegall, a local historian for the American Legion, asked Floyd if he was a veteran. When Floyd said which unit he served with, Stegall immediately recognized it as being a highly decorated one. Stegall took it upon himself to research the case and discovered Floyd's heroic actions were detailed in six or seven pages of his military separation paperwork."I took a synopsis of his story and filled out the proper forms in April. I knew something would happen, but I wasn't exactly sure what," said Stegall. Just a few short weeks later, the Bronze Star was approved. Diane said the ceremony for her husband instilled a "feeling of total amazement and appreciation. It did our hearts good," she said. "We feel so honored that all the personnel here would go to such wonderful lengths to do this for us."Diane and Floyd at home.Sixty-one years later, private given Bronze Star(by Chris Roberts El Paso Times May 13, 2006)In April 1945, Floyd Raymond Thomas, a private with the 165th "Fighting Irish" Infantry Regiment serving on the island of Okinawa was assigned a deadly task. Thomas' unit was sent out to draw Japanese fire, a method of locating enemy emplacements so they could be taken out. And after that things got worse. Thomas' unit would defend captured strategic points in a fight that left 6,227 dead Japanese soldiers scattered on the battlefield. "It's amazing that Mr. Thomas did make it through that great battle," said William Steven Stegall, a friend and Vietnam War veteran. Because of Stegall's efforts, Thomas was recognized on Friday for bravery under fire when Col. David Abramowitz, commandant of the Army Sergeants Major Academy, presented him a Bronze Star...61 years after the battle."This was a time when you went and you didn't know when you were going to come back," Abramowitz said. "You were going to come back when your mission was complete. And the Japanese did not believe in prisoners. They did not believe in giving up. They would fight to the death."Thomas was one of only 16 soldiers in his unit of about 215 who survived the fight, one of the last land battles in World War II. Stegall, a historian for the American Legion, said the Army lost 4,675 soldiers between April 1 and July 2. He said the combined losses of Army, Marines and Navy were the "greatest casualty rate we had in the South Pacific.Stegall said that he and Thomas were working out at a local gym when he asked his friend if he had received his Bronze Star. "He said, 'I didn't know I had one coming," said Stegall, who contacted Republican U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's office when the Army told him the file was closed. Two weeks later, almost 61 years to the day after the battle was fought, Thomas' medal was in the mail, Stegall said.Thomas, 79, a New Mexico cattle rancher who now lives in El Paso, said he didn't ask about medals when the war ended. "It is unbelievable. It is wonderful," Thomas said of the recognition. "I never did care really in the past. I just wanted to get back to the ranch and go hunting and fishing." Asked about his bravery, Thomas answers with the humility typical of many in his generation. "It was the first time I started smoking. It's like being drunk. You didn't worry about the bullets," he said. "The Japanese were absolutely fearless. When they would get drunk at night on saki (rice wine) they'd attack whether it was uphill, downhill or sideways."Thomas' wife of 57 years, Patricia Diane Thomas, said her husband had violent nightmares 10 years after the fighting ended. "He wasn't looking for medals. He wasn't looking for anyone to honor him," she said. "He's a hard working dude, a farmer and a lumberman." As to the smoking, Thomas said his wife "put me off that 30 years ago."Floyd's World War II medals.