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"The Merrill's Marauders, we were over their heads from their origin to their, God help us, demise." (Video Interview, 48:44)

   Kenneth Wilbur Thomas
Collection image
Kenneth Thomas [2006]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army Air Forces/Corps
Unit: 88th Fighter Squadron, 80th Fighter Group, 10th Air Force
Service Location: China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater; India; Myitkyina, Burma; England
Rank: Captain
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Less heralded than their compatriots flying over Europe and the Pacific, the Army Air Force crews who served in World War II's China-Burma-India Theater encountered their own risks and challenges. In the CBI, Kenneth Thomas ran bombing and strafing runs in support of Office of Strategic Services operations and provided cover for the fabled Merrill's Marauders. Along the way, he ran into tangled politics involving America's British and Indian allies, who were about to go to war with each other. His collection includes four minutes of home movie footage shot from the gun camera of Thomas's plane while in action.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (63 min.)
Multimedia Recordings
»Gun camera footage (4 min.)
More like this
»Wings of War
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Taking the equivalency test to qualify for the Army Air Force; didn't pass, then realized he had been given an incomplete set of questions; on his second attempt, got the second highest grade in the class. (03:58) About to ship out when he came down with mumps; serious case in which he was swollen in every area of his body; teasing from a nurse about swelling in all his organs; nurse showing him off to teenaged student nurses. (01:58) On September 14, 1945, they still didn't have word the war was over; was in the air and noticed a fire in one of their hangars; since British and Indians were already at war with each other, he thought it was case of sabotage; turned out to be fires celebrating the war's end; prevented from taking a special souvenir from his plane. (02:46)
Initial assignment as officer of segregated unit; black troops resented white non-coms, but Thomas managed to work things out with his flight because he had a black sergeant; he was given three more flights to run; accepted on condition that white non-coms be transferred out. (03:03) Typical missions he flew during war; close support, using guns and followed a heading and map, radioing to ground forces for exact positions, performing several passes; bombing specific targets; used all armaments sparingly. (03:12) Living conditions on ground; rained almost every day at first camp; 200 inches of rain that summer; mess sergeant did miracles with powdered and dried foods; second camp near Myitkina was adjacent to pastures with grazing buffalo, good facilities; Red Cross girls stationed there; relations with locals; one tour, to jade mine once visited by Marco Polo; got a piece of jade for his wife, who still has it. (05:29)
Three-point orientation to CBI: Burma was a British colony, Burmese did not like British, Burmese were all right with Americans; supporting Merrill's Marauders; history of that unit; General Joseph Stillwell could not coerce Chinese and British into supporting American actions; Marauders' difficult journey to Myitkina on ground, losing many men; taking Myitkina in spite of ineffective Chinese soldiers; Japanese gun emplacement near captured air strip; planes would take off short of emplacement, bomb it, land, reload and repeat; Thomas's planes offered air support to pick off snipers harassing the Marauders. (07:36) The AVG (1st American Volunteer Group) had been disbanded, incorporated into the Army Air Force; one of them, who wrote God Is My Co-Pilot, flew P-40s and exaggerated the duration of one of his flights. (01:30) How his war experiences affected his life; 99 percent of people he served with were "hatched out of the same pod;" war showed what coordination and cooperation could do; pays tribute to black soldiers he served with; they formed a band, won competitions; performed and marched for Lord Louis Mountbatten on a visit; Thomas understanding the pride they took in this accomplishment. (06:17)

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  October 26, 2011
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