PVT Donald Harold Thomas

Donald Thomas was a member of 3rd Division Reconnaissance Troop. According to his own words:

“About 1:00am on Jan. 30, 1944, our troop led the attempted breakout from the Anzio beachhead. The Germans out-smarted us by letting us pass by where they were dug in. We were in 3 jeeps, a 3/4 ton truck, and a half-track command vehicle. After advancing for more than one hour, our platoon sergeant stopped us as he felt something was wrong do to “no contact” with any Germans. Our commanding officer, a Major, argued with the sergeant, and then a German tank came towards us from about 200 yards ahead. Our sergeant wanted to destroy our vehicles and head back on foot. But our C.O. over-ruled him and ordered us to head back in our vehicles.

As we turned around, Germans opened fire on us with machine guns and mortars. They also had placed land mines on the road after we had passed their position. My jeep hit one of the land mines. I was unconscious momentarily. I recovered and immediately found the other 3 men in my jeep were KIA. Our jeep burning, I dove into a ditch alongside the road and found my rifle was useless as the grenade launcher was bent out of shape. So I took a hand grenade off my shoulder strap. I looked up and there were 2 Germans with their guns pointed at me.

They took me to their command post, where I found 12 other men from our troop. I was bleeding out of my right ear and my nose. Some of my men gathered around me, put sulfur powder into my ear and took bandages and gauze from their first-aid kits and wrapped it around my head. I guess I looked like a mummy. I learned a year later when I returned to Naples, that only 2 of our men got back to our base. Since 13 of us were POW’s that meant about 30 were KIA.

After 6 months as a POW, I developed a plan to escape from Stalag II-B in Northeast Germany. I got Earl Grissom, a POW from the 36th Infantry Div, to escape with me. We got assigned to a forestry work party where security was rather loose. We were taken to this work party where we stay on site, which was at least 20 miles from Stalag II-B/ After 4 days there, we escaped on Dec 10, 1944. Two days later we reached Naklo, Poland and we hid in a boxcar in a rail yard, hoping it would be headed farther east. But a work crew showed up and could not open the car because we ad blacked the door. A guard opened fire and I was hit by a bullet, but only slightly wounded. we unblocked the door and surrendered. We were turned over to the Gestapo office in Naklo, where we were interrogated. Because I would give only my name, rank, and serial number, the Gestapo officer got angry, pulled out his pistol and whacked me on the mouth, knocking out 3 teeth and chipping off 2 others. That qualified me for a second purple heart. We were taken to Stalag XX-A near Torun, Poland, and placed in solitary confinement in 2 separated unheated cells from December 12 to December 26.”

According to a newspaper clipping, Donald escaped to Russia in January then went to Turkey and then Egypt. He returned to the United States in April of 1945, and was discharged from the military a few months later.

We honor you Donald Thomas.

(#Repost @National Purple Heart Hall of Honor)

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