WILLIS M. THOMAS, CDR, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Willis Thomas '31

Date of birth: September 26, 1907

Date of death: September 17, 1943

Age: 35

Lucky Bag

From the 1931 Lucky Bag:

Loss

1931 Thomas 1.jpg

Willis was lost when USS Pompano (SS 181) was sunk, likely on September 17, 1944. He was the boat’s commanding officer.

He has a memory marker in Arlington National Cemetery. His wife was listed as next of kin; he was also survived by at least one child (a daughter).

Career

From Fleet Organization:

  • Duty USS Pompano (SS-181) 1 Jul 1939 - 1 Jul 1940
  • Executive Officer USS Pompano (SS-181) 1 Nov 1940
  • Staff Submarine Squadron Eight Mar 1942
  • Captain USS Pompano (SS-181) 29 Jun 1942 - Sep 1943

He was promoted to Lieutenant on October 1, 1938 and to Lieutenant Commander on June 15, 1942.

Navy Cross

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander Willis Manning Thomas (NSN: 0-70166), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. POMPANO (SS-181), during the FIRST War Patrol of that vessel in enemy controlled waters near the Japanese home islands during the period 19 July 1942 to 12 September 1942. Despite strong enemy countermeasures and unfavorable sea conditions, Lieutenant Commander Thomas took advantage of every opportunity to strike the enemy and in a series of skillfully conducted attacks succeeded in sinking a destroyer, a 900-ton patrol vessel, and 6,900 tons of merchant shipping without casualty to personnel of his own command. Lieutenant Commander Thomas' conduct throughout was an inspiration to his officers and men, and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.

General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 313 (April 1943)
Service: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant Commander

Silver Star

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander Willis Manning Thomas (NSN: 070166), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. POMPANO (SS-181) during the SIXTH War patrol of that submarine in heavily patrolled enemy Japanese waters from 6 June to 28 July 1943. By his tenacity, skill, and excellent judgment, Lieutenant Commander Thomas succeeded in closing a strong enemy task force and inflicting severe damage on a SHOKAKU-Class aircraft carrier. His superb seamanship and great courage under fire were an inspiration to his officers and crew and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 313 (April 1943)
Service: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant Commander

Bronze Star

He was also awarded the Bronze Star, but unable to find a citation.

Memorial Hall Error

Willis' memory marker in Arlington National Cemetery lists him as a Commander, as does the Courts of the Missing in Hawaii. Suspect posthumous promotion. Memorial Hall has LCDR. (Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps of 1945 also has LCDR. Have been unable to locate a 1946 edition of this document.)

Navy Directories & Officer Registers

The "Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps" was published annually from 1815 through at least the 1970s; it provided rank, command or station, and occasionally billet until the beginning of World War II when command/station was no longer included. Scanned copies were reviewed and data entered from the mid-1840s through 1922, when more-frequent Navy Directories were available.

The Navy Directory was a publication that provided information on the command, billet, and rank of every active and retired naval officer. Single editions have been found online from January 1915 and March 1918, and then from three to six editions per year from 1923 through 1940; the final edition is from April 1941.

The entries in both series of documents are sometimes cryptic and confusing. They are often inconsistent, even within an edition, with the name of commands; this is especially true for aviation squadrons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Alumni listed at the same command may or may not have had significant interactions; they could have shared a stateroom or workspace, stood many hours of watch together… or, especially at the larger commands, they might not have known each other at all. The information provides the opportunity to draw connections that are otherwise invisible, though, and gives a fuller view of the professional experiences of these alumni in Memorial Hall.

July 1931

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Charles Skelly '27 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 4B).

October 1931

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at this command: ENS James Murphy '31.

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Charles Skelly '27 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B) and ENS Finley Hall '29 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B).

January 1932

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at this command: ENS James Murphy '31.

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Charles Skelly '27 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B) and ENS Finley Hall '29 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B).

April 1932

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Charles Skelly '27 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B) and ENS Finley Hall '29 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B).

October 1932

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at this command: ENS Charles Brindupke '32, ENS Edwin Hurst '32, and ENS Robert Goodgame, Jr. '32.

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Charles Skelly '27 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B) and LTjg Finley Hall '29 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B).

January 1933

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at this command: ENS Charles Brindupke '32, ENS Edwin Hurst '32, and ENS Robert Goodgame, Jr. '32.

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Charles Skelly '27 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B) and LTjg Finley Hall '29 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 3B).

April 1933

Ensign, staff, Battleship Division 4, USS West Virginia

Others at or embarked at USS West Virginia: CDR James Logan '10 (USS West Virginia), LTjg Ted Marshall '24 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 4B), LTjg Francis Jordan '29 (USS West Virginia), ENS Philip Ashworth '31 (USS West Virginia), ENS Ernest Hodge '32 (USS West Virginia), ENS John Everett, Jr. '32 (USS West Virginia), and ENS John Speer '32 (USS West Virginia).

July 1933

Ensign, staff, Battleship Division 4, USS West Virginia

Others at or embarked at USS West Virginia: CDR James Logan '10 (USS West Virginia), ENS Philip Ashworth '31 (USS West Virginia), ENS Ernest Hodge '32 (USS West Virginia), ENS John Everett, Jr. '32 (USS West Virginia), ENS John Speer '32 (USS West Virginia), and ENS Ludwell Pickett, Jr. '33 (USS West Virginia).

April 1934

Ensign, staff, Battleship Division 4, USS Pennsylvania

Others at or embarked at USS Pennsylvania: CDR Mervyn Bennion '10 (US Fleet), LTjg Robert Germany, Jr. '30 (USS Pennsylvania), ENS Francis Douglass '32 (USS Pennsylvania), ENS James Kemper '32 (USS Pennsylvania), and ENS Earle Schneider '33 (USS Pennsylvania).

July 1934

Ensign, under instruction, Submarine Base New London, Connecticut

Others at this command: LTjg Samuel Dealey '30, ENS Henry Brossy '31, and ENS Charles Brindupke '32.

October 1934

Lieutenant (j.g.), under instruction, Submarine Base New London, Connecticut

Others at this command: LTjg Samuel Dealey '30, LTjg Henry Brossy '31, and ENS Charles Brindupke '32.

January 1935

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS S-47

April 1935

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS S-47

October 1935

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS S-46

January 1936

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS S-46

April 1936

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS S-46

July 1936

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS S-46

Others at this command: LTjg Augustus Alston, Jr. '31.

January 1937

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS S-46

Others at this command: LTjg Augustus Alston, Jr. '31.

April 1937

Lieutenant (j.g.), executive officer, USS S-46

Others at this command: LTjg Augustus Alston, Jr. '31.

October 1939

Lieutenant, USS Pompano

Others at this command: LTjg Earle Schneider '33.

June 1940

Lieutenant, USS Pompano

Others at this command: LTjg Earle Schneider '33 and LTjg David Connole '36.

November 1940

Lieutenant, USS Pompano

Others at this command: LTjg Earle Schneider '33 and LTjg David Connole '36.

April 1941

Lieutenant, USS Pompano

Others at this command: LTjg Earle Schneider '33 and LTjg David Connole '36.


Class of 1931

Willis is one of 51 members of the Class of 1931 on Virtual Memorial Hall.