Artis Drexel Thomas

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Artis Drexel Thomas, 81, of Monticello,died Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011, at Lawrence County Hospital inMonticello. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday,Aug. 30, at Wilson Funeral Home in Monticello. Burial will be inCarmel Baptist Church Cemetery. Visitation was held on Monday atthe funeral home.

    Mr. Thomas was born in Homerville, Ga., on Sept. 5, 1929. He was astaff sergeant with the United States Marine Corps, during theKorean War. He retired after 22 years as an electrical engineerwith St. Regis Paper Company in Monticello.

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    In 1950, he fought in the Korean War attached to the 1st Battalion,1st Regiment, and 1st Marine Division. “The Old Breed,” he workedhis way up in rank to become a gunnery sergeant, which is thehighest-ranking non-commissioned officer in the United StatesMarine Corps.

    Drexel participated in the Incheon Landing, moving inland torecapture Seoul. On Oct. 7, 1950, with North Korean forces in fullretreat the Inchon-Seoul campaign was formally declared closed.

    Despite intelligence in early November that Chinese Communistsforces were massing in force across the Yalu River, 30,000 menconsisting of the 1st Marine Division and U.N. forces (nicknamedthe “Chosin Few” and the “Frozen Chosin”), were ordered to continuetheir progress northwest from Hungnam to the Chosin Reservoir. In acarefully planned campaign, eight Chinese divisions consisting ofapproximately 60,000 troops, charged down from surroundingmountains with the express mission of destroying the alliedforces.

    During the battle at Chosin, allied forces suffered approximately2,500 casualties, the Chinese casualties were estimated at 35,000.Because of the Chinese increasing their forces, the 1st MarineDivision was ordered to withdraw. Drexel recounted the difficultiesof being extracted from Korea. Drexel made radio contact with amerchant ship off the coast of Korea. He was told, “If you men canmake it to the shore, we will pick you up.”

    Gunnery Sgt. Thomas miraculously made it to the shores of Hungnam.Having to swim a mile in the Sea of Japan under freezingtemperatures to reach the merchant ship, the ship lowered its cargonets, holding on for dear life while being scooped from the sea tosafety.

    The Korean War has been dubbed the “Forgotten War.” Gunnery Sgt.Thomas will never be forgotten. He will always be in the hearts andminds of those who loved him. He will always be remembered as agreat man who truly understood the meaning of family, duty, honorand country.

    He is preceded in death by his parents, Carey Thomas and VashtiCapps Thomas; his wife, Helen Reeves Thomas; his daughter, JeanmeThomas; his son, Art Thomas; and his brothers, Hilton Thomas andGilbert Smith.

    He is survived by his daughter, Karen Thomas Hart, of Dayton,Tenn.; his son, Travis Thomas, of Silver Creek; and hisgrandchildren, William Bean and Kaylee Thomas.