Bill Thomas was born in 1936 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve on December 10, 1953, and served with the 12th Infantry Battalion in Pittsburgh until going on active duty beginning February 10, 1955. After completing basic training at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, he served with Company G, 3rd Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, until January 1956, and then with Headquarters & Service Company, 3rd Battalion of the 8th Marines from January to May 1956. During this time, Sgt Thomas completed the Naval Gunfire School at Little Creek, Virginia. His next assignment was with Headquarters & Service Company, 9th Marine Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa from May 1956 to July 1957, followed by service as an aerial naval gunfire spotter with the 2nd Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (2nd ANGLICO) at Camp Lejeune from July 1957 until he left active duty and rejoined the Marine Corps Reserve on February 9, 1959. During his time with 2nd ANGLICO, he participated in the Lebanon Crisis in 1958. Sgt Thomas returned to active duty in the Marine Corps on April 3, 1961, and served as an aerial naval gunfire spotter with 2nd ANGLICO at Camp Lejeune from April 1961 to June 1962, and he completed airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia, during this time in November 1961. His next assignment was with Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Brigade in Hawaii from June to August 1962, followed by service with 1st ANGLICO at Camp Smith, Hawaii, from August 1962 to April 1965, and then deployed with Sub Unit 1 of 1st ANGLICO in South Vietnam from April to July 1965. He served with 1st ANGLICO in Hawaii from July 1965 to September 1966, and then again deployed to Southeast Asia, this time with 1st ANGLICO in support of the 2nd Republic of Korea Marine Brigade (Blue Dragons) south of Cho Lai, South Vietnam, from September to December 1966. He then served with Sub Unit 1 of 1st ANGLICO in Saigon, South Vietnam, from December 1966 to August 1967, and during this time he was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Marine Corps through the 5th Marine Division's temporary commissioning program on December 26, 1966. After returning to the United States he served as an aviation observer with Headquarters Battalion of the 5th Marine Division at MCB Camp Pendleton, California, from September 1967 to August 1969. His next assignment was as an aviation observer with Headquarters & Service Company of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Pendleton from August to December 1969, followed by service as a Brig Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVA-41) from January 1970 to January 1971. During this time his temporary commission expired and he revered to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 2 on November 1, 1970. CWO2 Thomas again served as an aerial Naval Gunfire Spotter with 1st ANGLICO in Hawaii from January to May 1971, and then served as a planner with 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Brigade in Hawaii from May 1971 to April 1972. His next assignment was as an aerial Naval Gunfire Spotter back with Sub-Unit One of the 1st ANGLICO in South Vietnam from April 1972 until he was shot down in an OV-10 Bronco while flying on temporary duty with the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron of the U.S. Air Force on May 19, 1972. CWO2 Thomas was captured and spent the next 313 days as a Prisoner of War before being released during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Camp Pendleton, and then served as an aviation observer with the Marine Aircraft Group 24 of the 1st Marine Brigade at MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, from August 1973 to July 1976. His next assignment was as an OV-10 aviation observer with Marine Observation Squadron Two (VMO-2) of Marine Aircraft Group 39 at Camp Pendleton from July 1976 to June 1980, followed by service as Marine Corps Clubs Officer with Headquarters MCAS Kaneohe Bay from June 1980 until his retirement from the Marine Corps on April 1, 1985.
His Bronze Star Medal w/Valor Citation reads:
For meritorious service while interned as a Prisoner of War in Southeast Asia from May 1972 to March 1973. Under harsh conditions, Chief Warrant Officer Thomas consistently resisted the efforts of his captors to obtain information or propaganda from him, thus conducting himself in strict accordance with the Code of Conduct and policies of the prisoner organization. Demonstrating his loyalty, professionalism, and devotion to the United States, Chief Warrant Officer Thomas reflected great credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service.
The Combat Distinguishing Device is authorized.