Lt.Col (USAF Ret) Andrew Hale Thomas Jr passed away April 28, 2013 surrounded by family members after a hard fought 4.5 year battle with bladder cancer. He was born in Asheville, NC on July 16, 1928.
Known as Little Hale while growing up during the depression in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, he had a large family with loving parents. He helped his family by working in the family general store in Church Hill. He graduated from Church Hill HS in 1948 then went to college at East Tennessee St. University; afterwards he enlisted in the Naval Reserve with his brother Joe. Next, he enlisted in the USAF and joined the cadets for officer training, followed by flight school where he received his wings at Bryan AFB in Bryan, TX. in 1952. Soon thereafter, he married his sweetheart Mary Lou Miller. It was then off to fly night fighters in the Korean War. After returning he and Mary Lou spent time at training bases in Moultrie GA and Tyndall AFB in Panama City, FL. Then they were given orders to go to Charleston, SC. When they arrived on base, there were no planes! Checking in at Base Ops they were told the orders had been changed to Great Falls MT. This started the next 10 years in the northern bases of the US, like Fargo, ND, Minneapolis, MN, Sioux City, IA and Glasgow, MT. The children were born in Fargo and Sioux City. Andy spent most of his time during those assignments attached to the 13th Fighter Interceptor Group flying F-101 fighters during the time of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile crisis.
The next 2 year stint came in Camarillo, CA. and then off to Incirlik AB, Turkey with the family in tow for another 2 years. After returning stateside to Shaw AFB, Sumter, SC. for reconnaissance training, it was off to Saigon, Vietnam. He arrived just in time for the 1968 TET Offensive where their squadron group was cut-off from their base. After surviving Vietnam, it was time for survival of another kind at HQ TAC at Langley AFB, Hampton, VA. for 3 years. His final tour of duty led to 3 years at Eglin AFB, 33rd Fighter Wing in Ft. Walton Beach, FL. Andy retired from the USAF after turning down the offer to head the Air National Guard wing in Little Rock, AR, opting to stay in Ft. Walton Beach for the next 31 years.
Andy received many awards for valor during his career including Bronze Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Numerous Air Medals, Unit citations and Commendation medals over his career. Unfortunately, he never talked about what he actually did to receive them. He was very humble about his accomplishments.
During his retirement in Ft. Walton Beach he sold restaurant equipment for Alford’s and was a part time administrator at First United Methodist Church of FWB. He developed many friends over the years including his golfing group that played all the time at FWB Municipal Golf Course. He and Mary Lou loved their church and made sure the children grew up in a Christian home. In 2001, Mary Lou developed kidney cancer and was treated at MD Anderson cancer center in Houston, TX. On one of the follow up trips they noticed a house for sale on the same street as Andy in the Houston area After much deliberation, they decided to do a last PCS to Cypress, TX.
After 3 busy years of traveling around Houston, trips to Las Vegas, Alaska and Panama City, FL., he was diagnosed with bladder cancer in the fall of 2008. This began the epic struggle for treatment and management of the disease. There were many people and hospital groups involved in his care. The family wishes to thank the following: MD Anderson Cancer Center team led by Dr. Randy Milliken, Tomball Regional Hospital, North Cypress Medical Center led by Dr. Ronald Taylor’s team, Hearts at Home and Odyssey Hospice.
He was known by many names during his lifetime. Hale Jr., in Tennessee while growing up. Andy, Tommy and TomTom were used during his Air Force career. Handsome was his FL name and Uncle Tale was the name he was penned by nieces and nephews. GP for Grandpa while living in Houston and Hale to his wife, brothers and sisters, Dad to his son and Daddy to his daughters. He loved to be called GP in the final years and everyone knew him by that name.
Unfortunately there is not enough space to talk about Dad and do justice to the impact he had on many lives. He never met anyone who didn’t like him immediately. His nature was to have fun, laugh a lot and love his family. He provided wise council to all and he will be greatly missed.
He was preceded in death by his parents, A. Hale Thomas, Sr. and Myrtle Virginia Leeper Thomas of Church Hill, TN, brothers, James Campbell of New Orleans, LA and Morton Campbell of Charlotte NC, sisters Frances Thomas Sayre of Asheville NC, Nancy DeYoung McCoy of Kingsport TN and his grandson and namesake Andrew H (Drew) Thomas IV of Spring, TX.
Survivors include his wife of almost 61 years, Mary Lou Miller Thomas, Cypress, TX, Andrew Hale Thomas III and wife Nancy Thomas of Cypress, daughters Tamara “Tami” Susan Thomas Nunley and husband Jeffery “Jeff” Nunley of Eagle River AK and Teresa”Teri”Diane Thomas Cruce and husband Stephen A.“Skip” Cruce III of Panama City, FL. Brothers John E. Thomas of Chapel Hill, NC, Joseph S. Thomas of Auburndale, FL and sister Virginia Thomas Neelands of Atascadero, CA and Carolyne Thomas Culbertson of Kingsport, TN. His grandchildren include Matthew Paul Thomas of Jacksonville, FL, Tiffani Sinclair Thomas Ross of Houston, TX, Susan Elizabeth “Beth” Rathburn Jochen of Puyallup, WA, Wesley “Wes” Barron Rathburn of Wasilla AK, Carlisle “Carl” Baxter Rathburn IV of Palmer AK , Mary Margaret Rathburn Tittle of Eagle River AK, Jeffrey Hunter Hatch Nunley of Eagle River AK, Andrea Reed Perryman of Houston TX, Angela Reed Casteel of Spring TX, Stephen “Al” Albert Cruce IV of Venice, FL, Karmen “Kim” Kimberlie Cruce Stewart of Hillsboro, AL, and Chad Everett Reed St. Louis MO. His great-grandchildren are Christopher Michael Hare, Brittaney Michelle Hare, Kyle Alexandre Jochen, Erin Mackey Jochen, Thomas Lamar Casteel, Alexandra Grace Perryman, Skylar Sinclair Ross, Zachary Luke Perryman, Malia Elizabeth Thomas, Siena Mason Ross, Carlisle "Lyle" Baxter Rathburn V, Haley Diane Thomas, Kone Zephyr Cruce, Sydney Drew Ross and many nieces and nephews.