First Lieutenant Charles L. Thomas, USA (December 14, 1944)

Charles Leroy Thomas was born on April 17, 1920 in Alabama. He was working as an auto assembler for the Ford Motor Company and studying at Wayne State University in Michigan when he was inducted into the United States Army on January 20, 1942. Thomas, an African-American, was put into the segregated 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, an all-black unit except for the senior officers, who were white.

Thomas showed leadership promise, was sent to Officer Candidate School, and was commissioned. The 614th was armed with towed M5 anti-tank guns and half-tracks to pull them. They arrived in England on September 7, 1944, and landed for combat in France on October 8th.

On December 14, 1944, while his battalion was attached to the 103rd Infantry Division, the guns Thomas was in command of supported the assault on the village of Climbach, France. He was wounded when his scout car was hit by enemy fire. Despite his wounds, he positioned his guns, returned fire, was wounded multiple more times, and stayed in command until he could be safely relieved.

From Military Times’ Hall of Valor:

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Charles L. Thomas (Wikipedia)

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Infantry) Charles L. Thomas, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action on 14 December 1944, while serving with Company C, 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, 103d Infantry Division, in action near Climbach, France. While riding in the lead vehicle of a task force organized to storm and capture the village of Climbach, France, then First Lieutenant Thomas’ armored scout car was subjected to intense enemy artillery, self-propelled gun, and small arms fire. Although wounded by the initial burst of hostile fire, Lieutenant Thomas signaled the remainder of the column to halt and, despite the severity of his wounds, assisted the crew of the wrecked car in dismounting. Upon leaving the scant protection which the vehicle afforded, Lieutenant Thomas was again subjected to a hail of enemy fire which inflicted multiple gunshot wounds in his chest, legs, and left arm. Despite the intense pain caused by these wounds, Lieutenant Thomas ordered and directed the dispersion and emplacement of two antitank guns which in a few moments were promptly and effectively returning the enemy fire. Realizing that he could no longer remain in command of the platoon, he signaled to the platoon commander to join him. Lieutenant Thomas then thoroughly oriented him on enemy gun dispositions and the general situation. Only after he was certain that his junior officer was in full control of the situation did he permit himself to be evacuated. First Lieutenant Thomas’ outstanding heroism were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.

At the time, Lieutenant Thomas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross; African-American soldiers were discriminated against for the award of the Medal of Honor.

He remained in the Army after the war, leaving the service with the rank of Major. He passed away on February 15, 1980 at age 59, and is buried in the Westlawn Cemetery, Wayne, Michigan.

Thomas’ case was one of those reexamined by the Army for allegations of discrimination in awards in the 1990s, and his Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously on January 13, 1997.

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