Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v04n24)
Norris Thomas: World War II Veteran - part one - By Mario Morone
posted: Nov. 30, 2007
Broad Ripple resident and WWII veteran Norris Thomas served in the United States Marine Corps as a scout sniper in the 2nd Division, 8th Regiment in the Regimental Weapons Company from 1943 to 1946. Born in Oklahoma, he was raised in the Sooner State and in Texas. He saw action in Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa and Le Jima before returning back to Okinawa and Nagasaki after the bomb was dropped there.
"I enlisted because I wanted to choose the branch of service to serve in and I had a hard time convincing my parents. With their permission, I went to work in Marin Shipyard at Marin, Calif., in 1943, knowing that I would be drafted at some future date," Thomas recalled.
"When my series of selective service numbers came up, I talked with some friends at the shipyard to get their opinions. Several suggested the Marine Corp. I sent my parents a form to sign, telling them that I had chosen the USMC. After discussing this with them at some length over the phone, they returned the signed form to me. I took it to the Marine Corp recruiter and was sworn in. Within a few days, I received orders to travel to San Diego via train to enter boot camp," he explained.
"Boot camp was all about becoming a Marine," Thomas continued. "Our platoon learned how to march, how to defend ourselves and trained in hand-to-hand fighting. After completing this portion of boot camp we went to Camp Matthews for rifle training and firing. I qualified as an expert. Returning to our military base for final inspection, we marched in parade (formation) with full military dress, then we were assigned to scout sniper training," Thomas said.
His scout sniper training occurred in Lake Cuyamaco in Southern California. "We were taught map reading and given a compass. We sought out locations given to us by Guadalcanal veterans, in groups of four or five Marines. We were not permitted to write down directions because the enemy might capture us," Thomas said. Memory was of the utmost importance to them in the following military exercise, he described.
"There was a park camp in our area that the public could use. It had small cabins that were above ground. Our instructors would send us there at night to infiltrate the camp and listen to conversations. We were not to reveal ourselves. If discovered, we were to tell them who we were and that this was a training exercise. One time, we were sent there at night while a group of girl scouts were there. Getting underneath a cabin and listening to their conversation was very interesting. Then we would have to remove ourselves and return to camp at night. I hated night problems. We could not use any light, but only compass and memory. When we went out on a 'problem' (mission), we took only a cartridge belt, canteen, our weapon, a first aid kit and dog tags," Thomas recalled.
"After we finished scout training, they sent us to Camp Pendleton (near Monterey, Calif.) and we shot from 1000 to 2000 yards at silhouettes for five to eight hours daily. At that range, you had to know your weapon so well that you had to coordinate your heartbeat with your firing at that range. You squeezed your trigger when your heart was beating on your right or left side. The instructor taught an elite group of five to six men who would seek out various targets from Point A to Point E. In preparing for combat, we were trained to move after firing. Sometimes, on an island it's difficult to do that," he explained.
Thomas saw combat on Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa and Le Jima. In Saipan, his platoon turned in their weapons for carbines with night vision scope equipment. Using a carbine, Thomas could see a green field in the weapon's scope, which helped him detect movement of anything in front of him. These moving objects appeared in a darker shade of green on his weapon's scope. One huge problem was that once the carbine was fired, it was not zeroed in on its target. The USMC later replaced the night scope carbines with M1s, which Thomas used the remainder of his military service.
"One time on Okinawa, our communications were cut to the forward outpost. I was among three or four others who were sent to check the outpost. The Sergeant told us, 'No talking,' and the rifle flash would give away our location. The telephone repairman took the telephone wire in his hand and led us along a rice paddy. When he found where the wire had been cut, we all laid down on the paddy trail. If you are fired upon, there's only one place to go for cover. It's into the paddy on the opposite side from where the fire was coming. At this time, it happened. We were afraid to return fire. Since it was at night, they could see our rifles flash. There was only one thing to do. Get into the rice paddy on the opposite side from incoming fire, which we did. They (Japanese) used human waste for fertilizer. I lay my rifle on the trail and gently eased myself into the paddy, keeping my hand on my rifle, which was cold. After a short wait, when there was no incoming fire, I put my helmet on the muzzle of my rifle and slowly raised it up to arm's length after a satisfactory wait with no incoming fire."
- end of part one