JOHN A. THOMAS, LT, USN
John Thomas '37
Date of birth: December 14, 1913
Date of death: November 15, 1942
From the 1937 Lucky Bag:
John was promoted to LTJG on June 3, 1940; on January 2, 1941 he was designated naval aviator #7003. He was promoted to LT on January 2, 1942, and reported to Cruiser Scouting Squadron (VCS) 6 on March 10, 1942. (Information from Richard Leonard, naval aviation historian.)
Battle of Cape Esperance
John was the pilot of USS San Francisco (CA 38)'s OS2U Kingfisher scout plane and was the first to report the presence of a Japanese task force on the night of 11-12 October in what became the Battle of Cape Esperance. He later landed the aircraft at the island of Tulagi.
The next-of-kin listing indicates he was a member of Cruise Scouting Squadron 6, stationed aboard USS San Francisco (CA 38); he was certainly stationed aboard that ship a month prior. A Navy Cross citation, however, lists him as a member of Bombing Squadron (VS) 10 aboard USS Enterprise.
It seems unlikely he would shift units and aircraft types so quickly when his original command was still engaged in combat, and he is not listed as a member of VS-10 here or here. He is not listed among Air Group 10 casualties in Enterprise's after-action report.
(Note "Bombing Squadron (VS) 10" had changed names but not yet designations, and continued to operate as a separate unit from "Bombing Squadron (VB) 10", which was also operating from USS Enterprise (CV 6).)
An after-action report on the damage suffered by San Francisco says that prior to the battle her "planes had been sent to Tulagi."
The source cited for the Navy Cross award below is incorrect; it does not list an award for John Andrew Thomas. It does, however, list "Lt. John Alfred Thomas" — also of Knoxville, Tennessee. James Thomas' Navy Cross was for action at the same time, as commanding officer of Bombing Squadron (VB) 10. The Hall of Valor page says he retired as a Rear Admiral… but the All Hands Bulletin says it was a posthumous award.
This site lists awards to both John Alfred Thomas and James Alfred Thomas for the same action, but with different units (VB-10 and VS-10) aboard Enterprise. Both entries list the same birthdate and hometown. It does not name John Andrew Thomas as a recipient of the Navy Cross.
This site of Navy Crosses awarded to officers and crew of USS San Francisco does not list John. LTjg Albert Thomas Harris was a recipient of the award, though; his names are similar enough to others here that it could have served as another source of confusion.
Conclusion: John was never a member of Bombing Squadron (VS or VB) 10 and was not awarded the Navy Cross. He was serving aboard USS San Francisco (CA 38) and was one of the 77 men killed in the engagement. This is confirmed by Richard Leonard, naval aviation historian.