BUNKER HILL, W.Va. — Elvin E. Thomas died Monday after a short illness at age 93, an end to an adult life that began after high school as a hotel bellhop before he was drafted in World War II and sent to Italy with the famed, all-black Tuskegee Airmen.
The highly decorated unit was the subject of “Red Tails,” a recent movie about the segregated fighter pilots and their combat experiences in the skies over Europe.
Thomas did not fly fighters in combat. He was assigned to administrative duties that helped to keep the pilots and their planes in the air against the Germans, according to his obituary.
“He was drafted on Feb. 25, 1942, and was sent to Italy on Feb. 3, 1944,” said his son, Eric E. Thomas, 53.
“He was discharged on Oct. 23, 1945 (as a staff sergeant) and went to work for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.,” said his other son, Kevin E. Thomas, 58.
In 1970, Elvin Thomas moved his family to Bunker Hill where they built their home on Three Run Road. “He wanted to come back home to West Virginia after he retired,” Eric said. Both sons and their families live next door and across from the home where they grew up.
Elvin and Thelma Thomas were married in Washington on Dec. 26, 1952.
“We met through some mutual friends,” Thelma Thomas, 80, said Wednesday. “I was 19 years old and he was 32.”
Asked about their 60-year-long marriage, she said: “We always understood each other. We stayed together all these years because we were able to discuss things that came up.”
Thelma said she and Elvin were “always together. There was never one without the other.”
“There were only four of us and we were a close family,” Eric Thomas said.
Elvin Thomas rarely spoke to his sons about his experiences during the war.
The brothers remembered he did tell of one time when some American MPs stopped them from trying to go into a movie theater in town because they were black.
“He said, ‘We went to the commanding officer and told him what happened so he went down to the theater and told the MPs that his men always carried guns and that he couldn’t be responsible for anything they did. They let us in the movie after that.’”
In February, Elvin Thomas was honored during the premier showing of “Red Tails” at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater in Winchester, Va.
According to the Web site, www.tuskegeeairmen.org, Tuskegee Airmen refers to all who were involved in the so-called Tuskegee Experiment, the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.