Editors Note: This is an appreciation written by the family of Elvin Thomas, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
In recent years, there has been much well deserved attention paid to the honorable and historically significant Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. They were a unique and pivotal group of American airmen who were successful both as war heroes and as men.
For 93 years he was more than a man to us. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother and an uncle. In all those roles he was a success because of his love, his faith, and his inner strength that shown to all who knew him. As we honor him, we also must give due credit to the love of his life, Thelma who stood beside and supported him as his wife and companion.
Those who did not know him may ask: what kind of man was Elvin Thomas? As a brother, he raised a sister from the age of ten to adulthood. Later in life after he retired he cared for his mother-in-law into his 80s. He was the kind of man who took in his disabled brother and helped him to obtain the benefits needed as a fellow veteran.
Those close to him knew him as a man who loved to talk, but he didn’t speak just to hear his own words. He spoke to lovingly share the knowledge with his family - knowledge he gathered throughout a life well lived and experience hard earned. The lessons he taught us were often based upon experiences he had as a first hand witness to The Great Depression, as a veteran of World War II and as an invaluable member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Those times and experiences taught him the importance of being careful with money and investing wisely as well as the necessity of not just living for now and today but planning for a secure future. For example, when Elvin entered the service at 23 he would routinely send most of his pay home. H wanted to give his family all the financial help he could while he was still alive to do it, he would say.
When he returned home for the war, he continued to support his family through a successful career with The Library of Congress in Washington. During his working days the order and accuracy of correct records management was key in the era before computers did most of the work. He eventually advanced to the position of assistant to the head of the inventory department before retiring and moving his family to Bunker Hill, WV in 1972.
But Elvin Thomas never fully “retired” . He was ever proud of his military experience and in that spirit of sharing he proudly served as Grand Marshall in parades and was often called upon to speak at churches and schools to educate others from his experiences during the war.
During his final year, he was the guest of honor at a special showing of the movie “Red Tails”, and enjoyed the cheers and applause of the audience as he made his way over the red carpet. The movie is based upon many of the experiences of the 332nd Fighter Group of Tuskegee Airmen and as one of the rapidly diminishing number of surviving members, he was well deserving of the adulation.
Now that his life and his work are done, and the applause and gratitude of a gratefully free nation no longer ring in his ears, we as his family begin the part of our journey without him at our helm. Or do we? He is surely still guiding us and holding our hearts through all the enduring gifts he gave us all our lives. In turn he will exist throughout eternity with our undying love to follow him always.