Thomas, Wilson J. (803rd, 648th)

Wilson J. Thomas 1Wilson J. Thomas

Biography:  Wilson Joseph Thomas was born on October 8, 1923, in Lafayette, Louisiana. He was the son of Joseph Thomas and Lydia Touchet and attended Erath High School in Erath, LA. After leaving school, Wilson worked as a fur trapper trading animal pelts and hides in South Louisiana. he was very skilled in navigating the marshes of the south.

On October 24, 1942, Wilson married the former Hillmay Marie Dronet, who had also been born in Lafayette, LA and was the daughter of Joseph Azare Dronet and Olita  Marie Viator.  

Service Time:  Wilson entered the service on February 22, 1943, and began his active duty on March 1st. After his initial training, we believe he was assigned to the 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion and would have training with them within the U.S. 

The 803rd trained in the U.S., at a number of military facilities including Fort Lewis in Washington, Camp Hood, Texas, Pine Camp, New York and Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

The unit departed from the New York port on June 24, 1943, aboard the Queen Mary and arrived in England on July 6th. They spent 11 months in additional training and the final preparations and staging at Portsmouth, in southern England, before boarding transports and landing at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on June 13, 1944.

Wilson J. Thomas 2They were equipped with M10 tank destroyers and helped capture St. Lô in July, before racing across northern France in August and passing through Belgium and Holland before reaching the Siegfried Line in September. The unit supported operations north of Aachen, Germany in October and then transferred to the Hürtgen Forest. Shifting to the Ardennes just before the German offensive began in December, they were committed against the Siegfried Line again in early 1945. Converting to M36 tank destroyers in February, they participated in the capture of Trier and crossed the Rhine River on March 23rd at Oppenheim. The 803rd joined the elimination of Ruhr Pocket in April and then pivoted, marching southeast through Austria and into Czechoslovakia.

The 803rd received credit for campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, the Ardennes and Central Europe. Wilson was awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious service during the period of February 15th through May 8th 1945, in both France and Germany. His award was in recognition of his regular service as a Jeep driver and his technical work of a signal nature (communications). The citation identifies that:

“Thomas’ intelligent and untiring devotion to duty were responsible for the continual communication within the platoon and also to the higher headquarters. The communication was of a vital nature because the platoon was supporting the infantry with direct fire. The efficiency and devotion to duty shown by T/5 Thomas reflected high credit on his character as a N.C.O. (non-commissioned officer) and is in accord with the highest traditions of the military service.”

Bronze Star Citation Article

Wilson J. Thomas 3There are portions of Wilson’s service time that are unclear but we do know that in addition to the 803rd, he also served with the 648th, probably after the war or possibly prior to his time with the 803rd. He ultimately left the service in January of 1946, at the rank of Technician 5th Grade.

Wilson returned home to Erath Louisiana and would start a family. The couple would welcome a daughter, Rebecca born in 1946, and then a son Sedwick in 1948. 

Wilson worked as a carpenter and became very skilled, worked with a 5 or 6 man team to build homes from scratch. After the war, houses were in high demand and he was known for the high quality homes they built. In his spare time, Wilson enjoyed building furniture and finely crafted wooden radios.

Wilson passed away on November 8, 1957, and was buried in the Our Lady of Lourdes Cemetery in Erath, LA. I want to thank Wilson’s great-grandson Carey for providing the information and photos used in this tribute.