Paul Thomas 

SGT E5 United States Army
11B40 - Infantryman
196th Light Infantry Brigade

196th Patch 

 

Tour began on August 25, 1969
21 Years Old
Enlisted from Red Cloud, Nebraska
His family moved to Esbon, Kansas while Paul was in Vietnam
December 30, 1948 to April 5, 1970

 

Jerry Hughes remembers Paul in a letter entitled "And Then There Was Thomas"
which he wrote to Paul's family on April 21, 1981.

I remember the first time I laid eyes on him.  It had to be one of the hottest days in
Nam to date.  The Company was moving in platoons by file, I believe we (1st Plt.)
were walking second.  The sun, dust and sweat was unreal.  I hadn't been in the
country all that long, hence was still out of shape, and pissed at all things animal,
vegetable and mineral.

When an infantry company moves through jungle-mountain type terrain, it inevitably
stretches out in small bunches, giving it an accordion effect.  At one such junction I had
slowed down long enough to look back over my shoulder and behold a sight
normally only seen in your standard John Wayne war flick.  Coming up the crest on the
hill I had just crossed was a huge man decked in full TO & E combat gear and bush hat.
On his right shoulder was an M-60 machine gun (known as a pig, hence "The Pigman")
carried with his right hand over the barrel and the butt of the weapon resting on his right
shoulder.  Across his chest strapped "Mexican Style" was over 200 rounds of M-60
7.62 ammo.

This wasn't so bad considering the 100 degree PLUS temperature until you looked
over his left sholder, upon which he carried two cases of beer!  The scene is indelibly
etched in my mind forever.  If you could picture him, with the sun going down just over
his head, it was truly a painting to behold.  It was the first introduction to my main
man - THOMAS.

I note in my writing, Paul was a most respected man, he was obviously my favorite.
His sense of humor, his compassion and leadership for his men and his unending
bravery and loyalty to me and his country, I shall never forget.

Combat is such a hard life for all that live it and Paul performed excellently at all
times.  Two episodes that readily come to my mind are:

Another platoon was pinned down by a sniper, had their point man shot at close range,
and their platoon leader called me for help.  I took Paul and three other men (and
they came without batting an eye to the danger-as there surely was) with me to find
 the sniper who was in jungle so thick we couldn't see 2 feet in front of us.  To see your
enemy is one thing, but to know he's out there and not see him is most frightening.  We
were able to get rid of the sniper and allow the other platoon freedom to move, call in a
medical chopper etc.  I make mention of this episode as I recall putting Paul and the three
men in for an Army Commendation with Valor and want to know if the Army it its
screwed-up paperwork ever awarded Paul the award.

Believe me, there were 20 other days, minutes, contacts like the one I just described
and that Paul was always there for me and the platoon.  I will always remember him
for that and may I say thank you to Paul's mom and dad for raising such a fine son
they can be proud of.

The second event I recall was:

Paul was popular both among the field troops, but also among the rear troops at our
firebase known as Hawk Hill.  At some point during his tour he was offered a rear job
as (I believe) a truck driver which would have meant no more direct combat.  He came
to me and told me of the offer.  We talked long and hard about it as it would have been
a great loss to our platoon of 40 men if we had lost him.  Paul realized this without me
telling him and as I recall, he asked me to think about it and I asked him to think
about it.  In the end he agreed to stay in the field out of his loyalty to the men (and if
I may say so) to me.

Life is so precious and short.  Who knows what plans GOD holds for us all.  Even one of
our men who became a truck driver was killed in the rear area when the vehicle overturned,
slid off an embankment and crashed.  And it was all by itself.

Although the war became futile for us at times, we (and Paul) performed for each other,
helped each other, shared pain & misery and became brothers.  I will never forget
my brother Paul.

 

Jerry Hughes remembers Paul in a letter entitled "Good Friends"
which he wrote to Paul's family on June 29, 1981.

It was a typical day on Hill 251 with my platoon off and relaxing for once.  The 2nd
platoon was off the hill on a day patrol and the 3rd platoon, like us, was also taking it
easy.  I remember how beautiful the day was, clear, sunny and quiet.

From Hill 251 you could see the South China Sea about 10-12 clicks to the East, all
blue with just a bit of mist burning off.

The day before, the 2nd platoon had come across 2-3 VC bathing in a river.  They had
made the mistake of taking off all their gear, leaving no security out and paid dearly for
their mistake.  Part of the gear the 2nd platoon confiscated were 6-8 hand grenades
the VC had attached to their web belts.  The hand grenades were brought into the
Company perimeter and set beside the Company CP.

So here we are the next day and the "Old Man" (1 LT Joe G.) calls my RTO to send
someone up to the CP.  As the 2nd platoon was out on patrol, my platoon
(as always) was selected to do another platoon's work.

I don't really remember who went up to the CP to get the grenades.  At the time
I was lying in my hooch on my air mattress reading, of all things, a comic book.
It's title I don't recall, either.

Anyhow, the next thing I know, my second squad leader, Paul Thomas, is hollering
"Fire in the Hole!" and pulls the pin on the first grenade and throws it down the
side of our perimeter hill.  One must understand he had been working with live M-60
ammo and grenades daily for 10 months as a unit.  The "By the Book" method to
dispose of captured ammunitions is to put it in a hole, pack it with C-4 and blow it
in place.  But again, we slept with US hand grenades, and field experience was simply
to pull the pin and toss it over the side.

At the first "Fire in the Hole!" and explosion, I sat halfway and looked towards the
sound.  I saw Thomas pulling the second pin, and hollering "Fire in the Hole!" and
tossing now the second grenade.  Again the huge explosion and at that time I put two
and two together, captured grenades by 2nd platoon, Thomas getting rid of them.

I remember returning to my reading for another 4 or so grenades, when "BOOM",
the explosion sounded to be right behind me instead of halfway down the hill.  All
kinds of dirt came flying through my hooch and before the first cries of medic, my
instinct told me there was trouble and BIG trouble at that!

There are certain moments in one's life that will live for eternity, kind of like when
you are headed for an auto head-on collision and your entire life flashes before
you.  No doubt there were screams for "Medic!, Medic!", "Lieutenant!, Lieutenant!",
and all the other last effort cries man is capable of in his last moments or the
last moments of his buddies.

When you're scared, frightened and alarmed, you're ability to react quickly multiplies
tenfold.  I should think it took me 3-5 seconds to get from the prone position in my
hooch to Thomas' side.

To me, the hand grenade is the most lethal weapon the Army has in its "Up-Close"
warfare arsenal.  Yes, the claymore can do a J-O-B, but the hand grenade with its
volume of sheer velocity and exploding metal is awesome.

The last of the captured US hand grenades went off in Thomas' hand at about the
moment he was in the wind-up for the baseball toss downhill.  Evidently its fuse was
shortened by the Vietcong to be used as a booby trap at a later date.  Little did they
know it would eventually find its mark.

As I look back on that moment, I think my whole world stopped for me, changed,
crumbled and has never been the same since.

One must picture a friend he Loves dearly with raw bone and flesh hanging where
before was a "Golden Gloves" boxing Champion's hand.  When I say no hand, I mean
just cut-off at the wrist.  The poor guy never knew what hit him.  There was a piece of
shrapnel through his throat the size of a penny roll and also one lodged in his forehead,
about the size of two quarters.  He was moaning incoherently, lying in a fetal position on
his back looking up at me with his eyes rolled back, three quarters white.

Our medic was working on Smitty who had been standing 10 feet to Thomas' right rear.
Smitty also took one in the throat and was dying rapidly.  Two other men had also been
injured, but not as bad.

And here I am with my main man Thomas, my most squared away and respected of All,
moaning like an animal.

I remember cursing, screaming for another medic, telling my people to call down a
"Freaken' Dustoff" and saying to God, "Please don't let him die, PLEASE!".

Did I apply life saving techniques?  I'm sure I did, no doubt I wrapped his hand and
told him I was there and to hang-on, but when one's hit really bad, only a prayer
is in place.

At the time of the accident, there was a chopper on the other side of the Company CP
bringing in supplies or intelligence, I don't recall.  The pilot was saying to the CO he wasn't
 a dust-off chopper and that we should request one from Hawk Hill, a 10 minute wait or so.
I told the CO that I had two men dying and that if that chopper doesn't land on my side of
the perimeter immediately, I was going to personally blow him out of the sky.

He did come and we carried Smitty and Thomas over to him about 30 feet away.  His
chopper was small, he couldn't land as our side of the perimeter was about a 45 degree
slope and I remember having a hard time lifting-up Thomas into the small back seat.
Smitty went in somehow also, and off he took.  About 5-10 minutes later, I guess, a
slick came in and took the fellows who were slightly injured back in.

Although it seemed like an eternity, it still all happened so fast.  After the choppers,
the dust settled and my men dispersed, disappearing into their foxholes, bunkers,
hooches and what have you.  I do remember Joe G. promising me he would let me
know how Thomas was as soon as he got some word.  Joe knew me well, and knew
how much Thomas meant to me and the platoon.  At that point I had written Thomas
off.  I knew he was dying when we put him on the chopper.  If he didn't die, he would
have been a vegetable judging by the size of shrapnel in his forehead.

I remember going around to my men and tying to be strong when inside I was
devastated.  I particularly recall going to Snyder, Thomas' squad point-man.  What
a team we were, Snyder, Thomas, and myself moving in the order.  Smooth,
efficient, deadly.  Never a word need be said, each other knew what to do and I
looked forward to the days the 2nd squad (Thomas) had point with me.  Snyder was
in his bunker and said nothing.  Nothing.  His eyes looked right through me.  No doubt
I said, "What can I say?" and left him there alone.

There was an empty bunker upon which I sat on top and just cried.  Not the kind of
cry with just tears and snot rolling down your face, but balling like a baby, right
there in the open on that beautiful sunny day.  I'm crying now too, but that's OK,
because I don't want to forget his death and I know I never will.

My platoon Sgt., a blade E7 or E8, lifer type, but a nice guy and respected, he says
to me, "Lieutenant, crying don't do no good, it ain't gonna bring Thomas back
and it's not good for the men to see you cry", and I remember saying "This Freaken'
War!" and all that stuff and saying "I don't care if the men see me cry."  It's all a blur,
the day after, we went to sleep, got up, the war marched on.  The CO told me the next
day that both Thomas and Smitty didn't make it.  It was anti-climatic at that point.
I know I didn't even cry when he told me.  I had not cried in Nam prior to Thomas'
death, nor did I cry again before I left.

Those were hard times for my men.  Perhaps we all became more ruthless in our desire
to get even with the enemy, but I think for me it was the straw that broke the camel's
back.  I was beaten and started to think of getting out of the field after extending out
there for 10 months.  No amount of enemy killed or wounded would bring 'ol Thomas back.

All that happened in April of '70 and I recall it as if it was yesterday.  Sometimes I think
of what his parents are doing in Nebraska and wish I could visit them and tell them
what a great man he was.  I don't think I could take the pressure, would probably
breakdown, cry, etc. but I'm willing to try.

I find myself crying a lot lately.  At the end of "Coming Home", when John Voight is
telling those high school kids what it's like to see a buddy die in your arms, I
could feel it man, I could see Thomas again and again.  I guess you could say, I was
lucky to know him.

 

If you would like to post your remembrance
about Paul, please
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