Clarence Thomason WWII Military Service

©2015 Lori Cook-Folger, CG

Lemmet C. Thomason photograph, c. 1942; original privately held by Lori Cook-Folger, [address for private use,] North Carolina, 2009.

Most genealogists know that there was a fire 12 July 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center that resulted in the loss of Army and Air Force Military Personnel Files. Reconstructing these records can be tedious. I am fortunate that I have the original discharge papers of Lemmett Clarence Thomason. These documents give details of his service during World War II:

Clarence was inducted into the Army on 17 June 1942 and served in Company B, 313th Engineer Battalion. After his three months of basic training, he was a jackhammer operator for thirty-one months and a cook for three months, including setting up and operating a field kitchen under combat conditions in Italy. He was awarded a Good Conduct Medal and the European–African–Middle Eastern (EAME) Campaign Medal with 5 Bronze Stars & 1 Bronze Arrowhead[1].

The Bronze stars were for his participation in the following campaigns:

  • Sicily
  • Naples-Foggia
  • Rome-Arno
  • Northern Apennines
  • Po Valley

The Bronze Arrowhead was awarded for participation in a combat amphibious landing within the EAME Theater.[2] Clarence left the U.S. on 8 February 1943 and arrived EAME on 21 February. He was there until 11 September 1945 and arrived back in the U.S. on 28 September. He was discharged from Fort Sam Houston on 4 October.[3]

The documents appear to give an account of his service, but I wanted to see what role his battalion played in these campaigns. Army Engineer Battalions cleared minefields, built and repaired roads and bridges, and cleared routes of obstacles. The history of the 313th Engineer Battalion showed discrepancies with Clarence’s discharge papers. The Battalion did not leave the U.S. until October–December 1943—after Clarence’s departure in February and after the Sicily Campaign of 9 July–17 August 1943.[4]

If Clarence was in the 313th Battalion, how did he arrive in EAME a full eight months before and how was he awarded a bronze star for participation in the Sicily Campaign?

The answer is found by clues in the mementos Clarence’s future wife, Gladys Earwood, saved from his military years: Christmas and birthday cards, and a leather “wallet.” The addresses on the envelopes show he was in Co. E, 39th Engineer Combat Regiment.[5] The historical unit data cards for the 39th Engineer Combat Regiment shed light on what happened. Company E was transferred to its overseas station, North African Theater of Operations (later designated Mediterranean Theater of Operations) in January of 1943 on the Acadia, and arrived Oran, Algeria on 21 February 1943. They were assigned to the Seventh Army.[6]

In the early morning hours of 10 July 1943, Patton’s 7th Army sent several waves of soldiers in amphibious landings on a forty-mile stretch of three beaches on Sicily. The 39th landed half an hour after the Rangers to clear away beach obstacles and prepare for the arrival of cargo.

While Patton was leading his men in Sicily, General Eisenhower was preparing to get an American army into mainland Italy. Lt. General Mark W. Clark’s Fifth Army was given the assignment. The units of the Fifth Army were drawn largely from Seventh Army units after the Sicily Campaign, eventually reducing the Seventh to a minimum.[7] This appears to be how Clarence participated in the Sicily Campaign before being assigned to the Fifth Army and the 313th Engineer Battalion where he remained until discharged.

Clarence kept a leather wallet that he acquired while in Africa. Inside was a patch and membership card in the Fifth Army Association. These items corroborate the military history that was not noted on his discharge papers.[8]

[1] Lemmett C. Thomason Honorable Discharge; Thomason Family Folder, Cook-Folger Collection, privately held by Lori Cook-Folger, [address for private use,] North Carolina.

[2] Grunt’s Military, (http://www.gruntsmilitary.com : accessed 18 February 2004), “World War II Medals.”

[3] Lemmett C. Thomason, Discharge, Cook-Folger Collection.

[4] James S. Green, Lt. Col. C.E., Military History Network (http://www.milhist.net/88/313engr.html : accessed 16 October 2015), “History-313th Engineer Combat Battalion.”

[5] Earwood, Gladys (Celeste, Texas) to Pvt. Lemmett C. Thomason, birthday card, 8 October 1942 and Thomason, Lemmett C. to Gladys Earwood, Christmas card, post dated 16 November 1944; Earwood Family Files, privately held by Lori Cook-Folger [address for private use,] North Carolina. Inherited by Cook-Folger after the death of Gladys in 2009.

[6] Marion J. Chard, VI Corps Combat Engineers of WWII (http://www.6thcorpscombatengineers.com/docs/39th/ Unit%20Data%20Card.pdf : accessed 5 December 2015); “Historical unit data card for the 39th from 1942 activation to 1992 deactivation.”

[7] Martin Blumenson, United States Army In World War II, The Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Salerno To Cassino (1969; reprint, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993), p. 27–33, digital image, Internet Archive (http:www.archive.org : accessed 5 December 2015).

[8] Lemmett Clarence Thomason, leather wallet and contents, 1944, Cook-Folger Collection, privately held by Lori Cook-Folger [address for private use,] North Carolina. Inherited by Cook-Folger after the death of Gladys in 2009.