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Herbert Thomas


Medal of Honor recipient Herbert Joseph Thomas Jr. (February 8, 1918-November 7, 1943) was born in Columbus, Ohio, and moved with his family to South Charleston in the 1920s. He excelled in football as a halfback for South Charleston High School and received a scholarship to play at Virginia Tech where he led the team in pass receptions and scoring.

After serving several months in the Army Air Corps, Thomas enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in Charleston on March 3, 1942. As a member of the 3rd Marine Division, Sergeant Thomas fought in the South Pacific, earning his Medal of Honor for heroism in the Bougainville campaign in the Solomon Islands. On November 7, 1943, after destroying two machine gun nests, Sergeant Thomas and his squad discovered a third Japanese gun emplacement. Thomas positioned his men in strategic locations and threw a grenade toward the enemy location. The thrown grenade struck a group of vines and fell back near the Marines. Thomas immediately jumped on the grenade, killing himself but saving his squad.

Thomas was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously on August 1, 1944. In March 1945, his sister, Audrey Irene Thomas, christened a Navy destroyer, the USS Herbert J. Thomas. In December 1946, the new Herbert J. Thomas Memorial Hospital opened in South Charleston and was named for the local hero. Thomas was buried at the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Cemetery on Bougainville in 1943. His body was returned to South Charleston and interred at Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery in June 1948.

Written by Henry Franklin Tribe