October 15, 2014 Edition

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Thomas selected for Arkansas
Military Veterans Hall of Fame

In the 1960's, two years of ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) was mandatory for male students at Arkansas State University. Walnut Ridge native Tom Thomas said he took the mandatory training but not the advanced. "I didn't like the military," he said.

However, the draft and then the financial incentives led him to a record of distinguished service in the military. "It's something that just kind of grows on you," he explained of his military career. "I just tried to do my job and help others along the way."

That formula must have worked well for Thomas, as he was quickly promoted in rank. He retired as a U.S. Army colonel and has also received various appointments and recognitions. Just recently, he has been selected for induction into the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame. Out of many nominations each year, only 15 are inducted per year.

His induction will take place during ceremonies Nov. 1 at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock from 6-8 p.m. The public is invited and ticket information is available through the website (www.amvhof.org).

Thomas will be recognized for his valorous combat service during the Vietnam War, his contributions to the Arkansas National Guard, his support for Veterans and his service to the Searcy community.

His military decorations include the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals, seven Meritorious Service Medals and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, among many others.

The son of the late Woody and Johnnie Thomas, Tom graduated from Walnut Ridge High School in 1966 and is married to Willette Recker Thomas, who is also a WRHS graduate. They have lived in Searcy for many years.

"I just feel really humbled," Thomas said regarding his selection for the honor, especially when he recalled friends and comrades who lost their lives in the military or who were left with scars, emotional and physical, from their military service.

Willette encouraged her husband, "Why don't you go accept it (the award) in their behalf?" So that is what he plans to do.

Tom said his success has been dependent on others, believing the adage that "no man is an island."

For him, "the best medal is a live man's smile," he added.

Mary L. Ryan, also a native of Walnut Ridge, grew up on the same street with Thomas and nominated him for the honor. She serves as library director at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. Her nomination letter included some of the information below.

A graduate of Arkansas State University, Thomas entered the U.S. Army on Feb. 14, 1969, as a private (E-2). He graduated from Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga., and served in Vietnam as a platoon and company commander with the First Cavalry Division.

Thomas spent about a year in Vietnam, including a stint in jungle survival school in the Panama Canal Zone prior to his tour in Vietnam. While in Vietnam, he led reconnaissance missions to observe the enemy. He recalled the longest he went without a shower or shave was some 23 days.

Tom also tried a six-month stint as a small loans officer at then Citizens National Bank in Walnut Ridge, where he enjoyed working under Gene Brand and Larry Sloan. He also recalled working some years before for Bill Rainwater Jr. at Pitzele Gin in Walnut Ridge.

In 1972, he joined the Arkansas National Guard and held numerous assignments in operations, logistics and personnel, as well as command assignments at the company, battalion and brigade levels. He dedicated three decades to strengthening the Arkansas National Guard and has been recognized by five adjutant generals and decorated by three governors for his efforts.

He has also counseled many young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to help them transition and assist them in getting their needed benefits.

Thomas has wise advice for Vietnam veterans who felt they were not properly treated by the American public upon their return from the war. "I tell them, ‘Maybe it was just our generation that had to pay the price, in order to teach the lesson that this is not the way to treat our veterans.'"

His dedication to veterans prompted Gov. Mike Beebe in 2009 to appoint Tom to a five-year term on the Arkansas Veterans Affairs Commission, which he chaired for two years. Tom noted that he had been acquainted with Beebe when both of them were students at ASU and then got reacquainted with him when both were living in Searcy.

In 1999, Tom as inducted into the Fort Benning Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame. He continues to be invited to the Infantry School to provide counsel and assist in pinning ceremonies.

Thomas is member of the American Legion, where he currently served on a National Board for Legislative Affairs, Military Officers of America Association and VFW.

At home, Tom has volunteered countless hours working with the youth of White County and spearheading the development of a youth sports complex. Active in his church, Tom participates in mission trips and is a counselor at summer youth camps. In March, he was appointed chairman of the board of directors for the Searcy Reading and Learning Diagnostic Center.

Tom and Willette have two daughters and two grandsons. Their daughter, Blair, and husband, David Manning, live in Jonesboro, and their daughter, Allyce Duke, and two sons live in Searcy.

Besides keeping busy with their grandsons and Tom's volunteer military travels, Tom and Willette manage both residential property and farmland.

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