Friday, January 10, 2014
Georgetown native Billy Thomas was honored for his service during World War II on Thursday morning at Belin Memorial United Methodist Church.
Thomas, 85, who now lives in Murrells Inlet and is a member of Belin, was supposed to attend a special Veterans Day ceremony at the church in November, but fell ill the morning of the service.
Thomas was presented with a WWII Victory Medal and certificate, a certificate signed by Gov. Nikki Haley, and letters of appreciation from Congressman Tom Rice and Sen. Tim Scott.
In 1945, Thomas was finishing up his sophomore year at The Citadel when the school told the cadets that they were needed to fight the war. All the juniors and seniors had already left the school and became officers. The sophomores all enlisted and became privates.
“They just called us in as warm bodies,” Thomas said.
He enlisted in the cavalry in the Army and ended up at Fort Riley in Kansas. After his training he served all over the Pacific with the 25th Infantry Division, and was wounded at Luzon.
“I got the combat infantry badge, which meant an extra $10 a month pay,” Thomas said. “If you let them shoot at you, you got $10 more.”
After the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and the Japanese surrendered, Thomas was part of the occupation force in Japan.
When Thomas returned home he got a commission in the National Guard and commanded the 4th Battalion, 178th Field Artillery unit in Georgetown. He served for 28 years before retiring as lieutenant colonel.
And even though he never technically graduated from The Citadel, he got his ring.
“They made a special dispensation [for] we who had been called in and came back,” Thomas said.
More than a dozen Citadel graduates attended Thursday's ceremony, along with Jack Rodgers, a member of The Citadel Class of 2014, who was invited to escort Thomas and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Rodgers, a Pawleys Island native and 2010 Waccamaw High School graduate, said he was honored to participate in the ceremony.
“I'm really thankful for these kind of people,” he said.