Friday, August 17, 2012

TFH 8/17-18: Sergeant Clyde Thomason, USMCR

Clyde Thomason was born on May 23, 1914 in Atlanta, Georgia. He first enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1934 and was discharged to the Marine Forces Reserve in 1939 at the end of his normal enlistment. With the United States' entry into World War II, Thomason volunteered to return to active duty in January, 1942 and also volunteered to join the elite Marine Raider units then under formation.

As a diversionary attack for the Guadalcanal Campaign that began earlier in August, 1942, Companies A and B of the 2nd Raider Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson embarked on the submarines USS Argonaut (SM-1/SS-166) and USS Nautilus (SS-168) and set off for Makin Island, known today as Butaritari.

Carlson's Marines landed on Makin pre-dawn on August 17, 1942 in rubber boats. Sergeant Thomason was one of the lead Raiders ashore, and he distinguished himself above and beyond the normal call of duty, ultimately becoming the first enlisted Marine to be decorated with the Medal of Honor for actions in World War II.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (T-Z):


Rank and organization: sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Born: 23 May 1914, Atlanta, Ga. Accredited to: Georgia. Citation: For conspicuous heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty during the Marine Raider Expedition against the Japanese-held island of Makin on 17-18 August 1942. Leading the advance element of the assault echelon, Sgt. Thomason disposed his men with keen judgment and discrimination and, by his exemplary leadership and great personal valor, exhorted them to like fearless efforts. On 1 occasion, he dauntlessly walked up to a house which concealed an enemy Japanese sniper, forced in the door and shot the man before he could resist. Later in the action, while leading an assault on an enemy position, he gallantly gave his life in the service of his country. His courage and loyal devotion to duty in the face of grave peril were in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Spurred by the heroism of Sergeant Thomason and their commander Lieutenant Colonel Carlson (he received the Navy Cross for the action), the Marines shot down two Japanese seaplanes, sank two boats, and inflicted casualties on the enemy four to eight times as severe as they suffered before they were evacuated. In addition to Lieutenant Colonel Carlson, the following 19 Marines and two sailors also received the Navy Cross for their courage (posthumous awards are italicized, links to Military Times' Hall of Valor):

Sergeant Robert V. Allard
Sergeant Dallas H. Cook
Major Ralph H. Coyte
Private First Class Howard R. Craven
Gunnery Sergeant Ellsbury B. Elliott
Sergeant James C. O. Faulkner
Private John I. Kerns
Second Lieutenant Charles T. Lamb
Gunnery Sergeant Lawrence A. Lang
Second Lieutenant Wilfred S. LeFrancois
Platoon Sergeant Victor Maghakian
Lieutenant, Junior Grade (Medical Corps) William B. McCracken, II, USN
Private First Class Richard N. Olbert (Albert)
Captain Oscar Franklin Peatross
Captain Merwyn C. Plumley
Private First Class Donald R. A. Roberton
Major James R. Roosevelt (President F.D. Roosevelt's oldest son)
Private First Class Joseph Sebock
Lieutenant (Medical Corps) Stephen L. Stigler, USN
Corporal Edward R. Wygal

Clyde Thomason's remains were identified nearly 58 years after the raid within a mass grave on Makin in 2000. His remains were repatriated to the United States and he rests today in Arlington National Cemetery.

On December 10, 1943, the United States Navy commissioned the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Thomason (DE-203) in honor of the brave Sergeant. The ship served mainly in the Pacific, earning three battle stars before she was decommissioned after the war on May 22, 1946. The Thomason was scrapped in 1969.

The Marine Raiders were disbanded after World War II, but their tradition and history is carried today by the Marine Corps Special Operations Command. All the Naval Service members who participated in the Makin Island raid, as well as the island's recapture in November, 1943, are today honored by the USS Makin Island (LHD-8). The Makin Island, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship commissioned on October 24, 2009, today transports Marines in peace and war to global destinations from her home port of Naval Base Coronado, California.

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