Robert L. Thomas
Biography: Robert Lee Thomas, “Bob” was born on October 28, 1914, in Hardy, Arkansas. He was the son of Robert E. Lee Thomas and Sarah Hopper and attended high school in Scammon, Kansas, through the 11th grade. He then worked in the coal mines and joined the National Guard in about 1936.
Service Time: Bob entered the Army on November 23, 1940, at Kansas City, Kansas, at the rank of Sergeant, due to his time in the National Guard. While at Camp Robinson, Kansas, he was assigned to one of the field artillery battalions, which later formed the Provisional Anti-Tank Battalion of the 35th Infantry Division in June of 1941. They officially became the 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion in December of that same year. Bob was assigned to Headquarters Company and less than a month later, on January 7, 1942, he was promoted to the rank of Technical Sergeant while stationed at Ford Ord, California. He was promoted again in October, to the rank of First Sergeant while at Pasadena, California.
On November 6, 1941, Bob married the former Mary Francis Leroy. She was born in Scammon, KS, and was the daughter of John Leroy and Mary Estelle Choquet. The new couple had one daughter, Mary.
The 635th was transferred to Camp Hood, Texas, in early 1943, and remained there for almost a year receiving intense training. They were then sent to Camp Polk in Louisiana for maneuvers before moving to Camp Shanks, LA, to prepare for shipment overseas. They left the U.S. on the HMS Andes on February 9, 1944.
The unit arrived in Liverpool, England, on the 19th and then landed on Omaha Beach on June 8, 1944. They advanced through northern France and Belgium and operated in the Roetgen-Aachen sector and the Hürtgen Forest during the fall. They were transferred to Belgium on December 22, during the Battle of the Bulge, and returned to the Aachen area in January, supporting the drive toward the Rhine River near Cologne. They were transferred to the Seventh Army and then almost immediately to Third Army on April 1, 1945, before crossed the Rhine at Mannheim. Their final movements took them through central Germany to Austria. Bob was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. In the photo below, you can see Bob standing beside a destoyed German Mk VI, Tiger Tank.
In the photo on left, you can see Bob receiving a Bronze Star from Major General Willard G. Wyman, commander of the 71st Infantry Division.
Bob returned to the U.S. and his wife in Scammon. He worked for Gulf Oil and in his spare time, he enjoyed duck hunting. Bob also attended at least one of the unit’s reunions, specifically one held in 1977. He also maintained a friendship with the unit’s Commanding officer, Lt. Col. Wint Smith. Bob had served as Smith’s driver for much of the war and the two corresponded for many years afterward.
The photo to the left was taken during the 635th’s reunion in 1977. You can see a portion of the tank destroyer logo on the wall behind him.
Bob passed away on May 22, 1985, and was buried in the Hosey Hill Cemetery, Cherokee County, KS. I want to thank Bob’s grandson, Rob, for providing the photos and information for this tribute.