Death of an American hero

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2007

To The Editor:

A quiet unassuming man, you would never know William B. “Bill” Thomas spent 3 1/2 years of his life as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. You would not know that he was a Bataan Death March survivor and survived the infamous Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines.

You see, Thomas relegated this dark tormented part of the past to the deepest recesses of his mind. He was to everyone who knew him a pleasant congenial man who loved God, his family and country very deeply.

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America lost a hero last week and it went practically unnoticed except by those who knew and loved him. There were no wakes or lying in state at prominent governmental places.

There were no news reporters clamoring for position on telling the news and paying tribute to this man’s life. He passed quietly and was interred in New Live Oak Cemetery next to the love of his life, the late Ora Posey Thomas. Reverend George Sedberry delivered a beautiful eulogy to a host of family and friends gathered for the graveside service. Knowing Bill, he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

He told me a story once that probably spared his life during his long and painful incarceration at the hands of the Japanese. Shortly after arriving at Camp Cabanatuan following the Death March, he and other prisoners were being used as pack mules carrying rice to Japanese troops in the field.

Malaria, beriberi and starvation were rampant among the prisoners. Their meager ration of a bowl of rice per day was hardly sufficient for the back breaking loads they were required to carry.

Bill became ill as most of the others were and during a trip carrying rice to Japanese troops, fell by the trail with his load and lay there trying to manage enough strength to get up.

A Japanese guard came alongside and told Bill you must get up or be shot. If you fall, do not stay down or you will surely be shot.

Bill never forgot the guard’s words or the fact he was told instead of being shot. It carried him through 3 1/2 years of abuse, disease and starvation. He lost half his body weight during the incarceration, but they couldn’t break his spirit.

Words come very difficult at this time to express the gratitude for his life and sorrow at his death. The community and world are much better places for everyone due to the life and sacrifices made by William B. “Bill” Thomas. He was my friend and I’m proud to have known such a great American.

May you Rest in Peace knowing your contributions are appreciated by a grateful nation.

James G. Smith

The American Legion Post 20