By Brendon Garcia
Willie Thomas was born on April 1st, 1893 in Smithfield, Virginia. His parents, George and Laura Thomas, raised their family Baptist. Willie ended up moving to Richmond, Virginia to live with his older brother. Curriculum education was not as important as labor in Willie’s life, it was documented that he had only finished roughly 2 years of school. He did in fact know how to read and write though. Around the time of his late teens Willie worked as a laborer for a tobacco factory while living with his siblings. Willie Thomas served 2 years in the U.S. Navy, working as a mess attendant. After this, Willie worked as a waiter for Old Dominion Steamship Company. He later met his future wife, Mary Jones, and they got married in Norfolk, Virginia in January of 1918. Willie had registered for the draft in June of the previous year in Norfolk, Virginia.
Willie Thomas was called into enlistment roughly 7 months after his marriage. In August of 1918 he was drafted as a Private in the Army, his major job focus in the Army was engineering. Willie was originally assigned to Company 17, 17th battalion, 5th division, but was transferred to Company B, 542 engineers in Brest, France. He and fellow engineers left Camp Upton in New York on the Transport America on September 29th, 1918. He then proceeded through the Argonne Forest. In a later interview, Willie describes his time serving as a lot of restlessness. As an engineer, many did not see any fighting. Willie described a feeling of restlessness seeing people fight around him and not being able to get involved. Unfortunately, Willie developed an abscess on the eye and was treated at the 80th division field hospital for a week. He was transferred to Camp Mills on July 5th, 1919 and ultimately processed out of the Army on July 18th, 1919 out of Camp Lee, Virginia.
Willie continued to work as a laborer throughout his life. In his mid-30’s he worked as a carpenter in Pennsylvania. He continued to work as a laborer in the northeast of the U.S. until he ultimately passed away on March 29th, 1982 in Farmingdale, New York. He is buried in the Long Island National Cemetery.
National Cemetery Administration; U.S. Veterans’ Gravesites
Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
“United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9MT-YK23?cc=2000219&wc=QZX5-VPV%3A790227701%2C804860501%2C804924601%2C804926001 : accessed 27 April 2021), Pennsylvania > Philadelphia > Philadelphia City, Philadelphia, Ward 36 > 51-1316 Philadelphia City Ward 36 (Tract 36-B – part) > image 31 of 34; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012.
“United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRZ5-NW2?cc=1810731&wc=QZFW-GRJ%3A649490601%2C651522101%2C651687701%2C1589285228 : 8 December 2015), Pennsylvania > Philadelphia > Philadelphia (Districts 0251-0500) > ED 278 > image 47 of 61; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).
“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYY2-3WNJ?cc=1968530&wc=9F4Y-RMS%3A928355001%2C928674101 : 24 August 2019), Virginia > Norfolk City no 3; B-Watson, Samuel > image 5467 of 5790; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYBM-FZV?cc=1727033&wc=QZZH-Y9V%3A133639801%2C140606201%2C138766201%2C1589089447 : 24 June 2017), Virginia > Richmond (Independent City) > Richmond Marshall Ward > ED 122 > image 13 of 60; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
World War I history Commission Questionnaire “Willie Thomas”
Brendon Garcia is a psychology major and NROTC midshipman at Norfolk State University.