Earl Newton Thomas, 88
Earl Newton Thomas, 88, died on August 20th after an extended illness at his home in Peachtree City surrounded by members of his family.
Thomas was a retired airline pilot and a decorated combat veteran of World War II. He and his family settled in the Atlanta metro area when he took a position with Delta Airlines in 1949.
Born in Bluefield, West Virginia on November 16th, 1921, Thomas grew up in Roanoke, Virginia where he was a high school athlete with considerable talent; he played football, basketball and baseball.
When World War II began, Thomas joined the Army National Guard. His unit was called to active duty when the U.S. entered the war. At that time, Thomas applied for duty as an aviation cadet thus beginning a career in flying.
Thomas completed basic aviation training and advanced training in the B-17 “Flying Fortress” at a number of different bases in the U.S. He earned his commission as a Second Lieutenant and his pilot’s wings in May of 1943. In December, 1943 he ferried one of the big bombers to the European Theater of Operations--the air war in Europe.
Upon arrival in the United Kingdom, he was permanently assigned to the 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Molesworth, commonly known as the “Hell’s Angels.”During his tour, Thomas flew 33 credited combat missions in the B-17 including bombing support for the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
In late 1944, as a newly promoted Captain, and a lead crew pilot, Thomas flew his last B-17 mission attacking oil refineries at Hamburg. For his role in that attack, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Due to his competence as a pilot and his leadership, all of his original crew completed their combat tours without injury. One of his co-pilots, Ed Miller, said, “Tommy was the best pilot I ever knew. He taught me just about everything I learned, more than in the formal schools.”
After finishing his B-17 time, instead of accepting reassignment back to lighter duties stateside, Thomas volunteered to fly the P-51 “Mustang”in an innovative new reconnaissance unit at Steeple Morden airfield. As one of the first bomber pilots to join the First Scouting Force, he would fly ten missions before being assigned as a flying instructor back home. He had earned the DFC with one oak leaf cluster and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.
When the war ended, Thomas hired on with Trans-World-Airlines flying the DC-3 out of New York. It was there that his met his wife of 59 years, Patricia Northington Thomas a United Airlines Stewardess. When he was later employed by Delta, he piloted at one time or another every aircraft the company used including the last plane that he flew which was the L-1011. Thomas retired from Delta Airlines as a Captain in 1981 having amassed over 29,000 hours of flight time.
Thomas was a skilled golfer who, at age 40 in 1961, had the distinction of winning the first Club Championship at Lakeside Country Club and, at age 70 in 1991, winning the last Club Championship at that course. He also won the Delta Airlines Open several times. Shortly before he became ill at age 87, he won a Canongate Dogfight tournament.
Always active after retirement, Thomas took part in the Bike Ride Across Georgia every year until he was 72 years old. As a runner for many years Thomas also competed in the Peachtree Road Race. Earlier on numerous occasions, he had ridden his Honda Gold Wing motorcycle across the United States.
Besides his wife Patricia, Thomas is survived by children: Kathleen Bassett, Deborah Christiansen, Mary Thomas and John R.Thomas; grandchildren: Christine Sanderlin, Thomas Bassett, John Christiansen, Matthew Speiser, Jack Earl Thomas and Georgia Rose Thomas and great grand-son John Bruce.
A memorial service will take place 1:00 PM Saturday, August 28 at Carmichael-Hemperley Funeral Home, 135 Senoia Road, Peachtree City Georgia 30269. There will be no viewing. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations in his memory be sent to Evercare Hospice and Palliative Care, 3720 DaVincia Ct. Suite 300, Norcross. Georgia.30092