Grace Gay Thomas, Jr. – Colonel, United States Army

Courtesy of the United States Military Academy

Grace Gay Thomas, Jr., NO. 17648

3 July 1928 – 14 September 1994
Died in Bradenton, Florida.
Interred in Arlington National Cemetery



Combat Infantryman's Badge (2)

“G.G.,”as he was known by his classmates and friends, was born in Monroe, Louisiana, the oldest of the 3 children of Grace Gay and Gene Thomas.

In 1935, the family moved to the Panama Canal Zone, where his father worked on the Gatun Locks.

Even at this early age, G.G. assumed responsibility. He watched over and ran interference for his younger brother.

G.G. did extremely well at Cristobal High School, graduating as valedictorian, best athIete, and a member of the Honor Society.

As a cadet, he continued his outstanding work. Those who knew him best describe him as fun-loving with a good sense of humor. This didn't stop him, however, from doing well both academically, in which he vied for first in the class in Spanish, and in leadership, in which he excelled. He was selected to be a lieutenant during First Class year. While a cadet, he met and dated Shirley Schroers. On 28 October 1950, they married at St. Joseph, Missouri. The marriage lasted a lifetime and resulted in two children – Wesley, an architect; and Temple, married to an Army officer – plus 4 beloved grandchildren.

Parachute School was next, followed by assignment to the 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, Eighteen years later, he commanded a battalion of the same regiment in Vietnam. Leaving Fort Bragg, he was assigned to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in Japan and Korea. There, he received his first Combat Infantryman Badge. His commanding officer, later Army Chief of Staff, remembered that G.G.'s work was of such high quality that he was selected as an aide-de-camp.

Returning to the United States, he was assigned to the Infantry School followed by a tour with the 3d Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer as Commander of the Honor Guard Company. Subsequently, he had two Pentagon tours, was advisor in Ethiopia, commanded 3 battalions and was G-4 in the 82d Airborne Division, commanded the 8th Division Spt Command in Europe, and was G-3 of XVIII Airborne Corps. He was Chief of War Plans at FORSCOM and then returned to Fort Bragg, where his career began, to be President of the Airborne Board. He was a graduate of the
  Command and General Staff College and the War College and received a Master of Science from the University of Alabama.

G.G. was one of the most decorated members of his class, receiving two Combat Infantryman Badges, 4 awards of the Legion of Merit, a Distinguished Flying Cross, 3 Bronze Stars, a Meritorious Service Medal, 7 Air Medals, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, and 7 Army Commendation Medals.

A mere recitation of his assignments and decorations doesn't describe G.G.'s character. One general officer put it this way, “G.G. combined a unique directness with an equally unique dedication and earnestness to do what he believed was right for the Army. And he never let anything, such as rank, interfere with those motives.”

In a briefing for this officer, he began, “General, it is very important that you understand this, so I'll keep it as simple as possible.”

Another general described him by saying, “G.G.Thomas was one of the most outstanding officers, regardless of rank, that I have known. G.G. was a real professional in every respect and a great human being. The Army is better today because of G.G. Thomas.”

G.G.’s commander in Vietnam stated, “When my helicopter went down in enemy territory, G.G. was at my side in minutes to take me to safety. He was always there when you needed him and without asking.”

Following retirement, Shirley and G.G. moved to Bradenton, Florida, where they became pillars of the community. G.G. spent 14 years at the top level in the banking business. A young banker said, “it is easy to climb the corporate ladder with people like Mr. Thomas pushing you to the top.”

He was a director of the Kiwanis Club, a member of the Vestry and Senior Warden of the Episcopal Church, and treasurer of the Bradenton Country Club. These later years provided time for GG to enjoy his love of golfing, fishing, and family.

How do I sum up G.G.’S life? I might point out that he always opted for the right way, not the easy way. He was also compassionate. When the North Koreans released the American POWs, G.G. met his classmates as they returned. On impulse, he gave his original Combat Infantryman Badge to one of them.

He was incapable of telling even a half-truth. To G.G., there was no shade of gray when it came to integrity. It was either 100 percent accurate and true, or it was a damn lie.

He was loyal and caring to his family and friends. He genuinely loved people from all walks of life, and they loved him in return.

At his memorial service, the Priest said, “West Point forged a man of integrity and character, and our nation has been blessed by one to whom ‘Duty, Honor, Country' were more than words, but a guiding light to live by.”

– Family and friends

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