Friday, July 31, 2009

In the cockpit of “Arrowhead”


The Story of a Thurber Fighter Pilot
By David Buster

Audax Fortis et Fides–Bold, Brave, and Faithful–Motto for the 505th Fighter Squadron.

Originally from Tredegar, Wales, Thomas O. Thomas came to the United States with his brother Jack by way of Liverpool, England, on the passenger ship Carmania. They arrived at Ellis Island in New York Harbor on September 4, 1907. From there the Thomas brothers went to Missouri, where they had relatives. Sometime thereafter, Thomas made his way to Thurber and began work in the coal mines as an engineer. Initially he resided at the household of Xavier Kessler, where Thomas met his future wife, the teenaged Blanche Isabell Kessler. The two married on August 21, 1916. A little over a year later in Thurber, on November 10, 1917, Thomas and Blanche welcomed their first child, Kessler Oliver Thomas, into the world.

Kessler Thomas (left) as a child in Thurber, Texas.

The Thomas family held several distinctions in Thurber. Jack Thomas became a well known local boxer. Dubbed by the media “The Thurber Welshman,” Jack had several boxing matches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His most notable contest was a draw he fought against the prominent Fort Worth boxer, Bobby Waugh. The Kessler family also had an established position in Thurber society, as Blanche served as the maid of honor for the Thurber 1908 Labor Day parade.

Kessler O. Thomas grew up in Thurber, but a few years later he and his family moved to Cisco, Texas. It was during his early childhood in Thurber that Kessler developed the desire to become an aviator. His hometown was a frequent stopping point for barnstorming flyers. Seeing these pilots land and take off in Thurber surely must have impressed the young boy. After graduating from Cisco High School, Kessler attended Allen Military Academy and Texas A&M College in College Station. Afterward, Kessler worked as a mechanical engineer for Day and Zimmerman Inc. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and trained as a civilian pilot.

Kessler put his flying skills to use for the United States military during World War II. He began his career as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Corps pre-flight school at Maxwell Field, located on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama. Kessler then attended the Army Air Corps pilot school at Corcoran Field in Macon, Georgia. His courses focused on the bombardment phases of pilot training, which completed training as a military pilot.

Kessler Thomas

In addition to receiving his pilot’s Silver Wings and a rank of first lieutenant, Kessler accepted two meaningful gifts from his flight school comrades. Immediately after a pilot received his wings, it was customary of his classmates to give him a one and a two-dollar bill. The one-dollar note had the pilot’s name and date as well as all their autographs. The two-dollar bill was a token of good luck.


After graduation Kessler was assigned to 339th Fighter Group, part of the 505th squadron. Stationed at Fowlmere, England, and equipped with the legendary P-51 Mustang planes, the 339th was one of the premier fighter groups of World War II, achieving 100 air victories in its first 100 missions. The following excerpt from a local Texas newspaper describes one of his missions.

Second Lt. Kessler O. Thomas. . . . participated recently in an Eighth Air Force fighter assault on Nazi oil refineries and storage depots and flew in an attack on vital communication lines inside Germany. Lt. Thomas and his fellow P-51 Mustang pilots of the 339th Fighter Group. . . . were interrupted on their mission by an attacking formation of Messerschmitt 109s. “Though they bounced us,” said Lt. Thomas, “we turned into them and the fight was soon over. Our outfit shot down eight of the Nazis.”

Kessler served admirably during the war, earning the Air Medal. This declaration was awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguished himself by commendable achievement while participating in aerial flight.

On February 6, 1945, tragedy struck. While on a bombing escort mission to Leipzig, Germany, Thomas was flying a plane nicknamed “Arrowhead”. On the return journey, Thomas was killed when he crash landed near Nuthampstead, England, in inclement weather. The Air Corps posthumously awarded him the Purple Heart.

Kessler Thomas' signed dollar bill and Silver Wings.