My mom’s dad, Ed Thoma, was a first-generation German immigrant to the United Sates.  When he was 15 years old, he disappeared to join the Army to fight in the Great War (World War 1).  His parents saw him in a news reel at the movie theater in boot camp. They notified the Army, and he was sent home.  When he turned 18 he joined the Army again, this time for real.  He was sent to Europe as part of the artillery in France.  He had a natural leadership and was field promoted to Lieutenant.  Interesting how he fought against his home country as an American. He loved America. 

During that time, his troops were going hungry due to the lack of food at the front lines.  Since he was in artillery he had access to arial photos taken from balloons and bi-planes.  He found a farm not far away behind enemy lines.  One night he gathered a group of soldiers to sneak behind the lines to get some ham and other meat from a smoke house at that farm.  They made it there and back without firing a shot.  I guess you could say he led one of the first special ops the Army had.  Anyway, they carried all the smoked ham they could carry, and the front-line troops in his area were well fed for a few days.  After the war he was brought up on Court Martial charges of going behind enemy lines without permission. He went before the court and argued that if they had done their job of getting food to the front lines, he would not have to do what he did.  He was ready for the punishment.  The court exonerated him of the charges.

After the war he worked as a fireman on trains.  What that means is he shoveled coal into the firebox of the boiler in the engine.  He told me that was the toughest work he had ever done.  It was hot and by shoveling coal all day from the car behind the engine to the firebox really gave him a daily workout.  

He met his wife in Mountainview Arkansas.  While living in Mountainview he did several jobs to make ends meet.  He was even Mayor of Mountainview for a few years.  Not long after that he got a job in the oil fields in Oklahoma where my mom was born. 

When World War 2 broke out, he was one of the first to join up.  Due to his age, and since he spoke fluent German, he became a prisoner of war guard in East Texas.  Most of the German prisoners were pilots who were glad to be out of the war. He became good friends with the prisoners and spent most of the day playing cards with them.  He said he would leave his rifle leaning in the corner of the room and no one dared go near it.  The prisoners knew they had it good there.

After the war he got a job at the arsenal near Pine Bluff Arkansas.  It was here where my mom met my dad.  Mom and Dad were later married in Mountainview. My mom lost her mom to cancer when she was 20 years old, so I never knew my grandmother.  Papaw re-married and lived in Crossett, Arkansas.

My first memories of Papaw Thoma was in Crossette.  My brothers got most of the Irish traits of the Overton side of the family, I got the German traits of the Thoma side.  I inherited his big hands and feet, but not his stature.  He was 6-foot 1 inch, I am only 5-foot 7 inch tall. I recall one summer when I was about 5 years old staying at his home while Mom and Dad and one of my brothers traveled.  One morning he made me oatmeal.  I was not sure I would like oatmeal.  He said “Eat it! Attila the Hun conquered the known world and all he fed his troops was oatmeal.”  I had no idea who Attila the Hun was but if it was good for his troops, then it was good enough for me. To this day my go to meal is oatmeal.  I can trace that back to that moment those many years ago. 

One time I asked him about his time in the Great War. I asked what he learned.  I am not sure why I asked that but as a 5-year-old those are the type of questions we asked.  He said, “I learned how to cuss” Apparently one of the artillery guns hit him hard on recoil.  Everyone who knew him said that he cussed a lot, but I never heard him do that.  Mom told me that when he started going to church and accepted Jesus as Savior, he changed a lot in what he did and said.  He rarely cussed after that.

Papaw worked at the local Baptist Church in Crossette as the custodian.  Every Monday he and I would go there and while he operated a floor polisher, I went from room to room collecting the trash.  I think I got my work ethic from those days.  I took my part of his job seriously.

50 years ago today, December 12, 1972, while Apollo 17 was on the moon, Papaw stepped into the presence of Jesus.  That was a tough day for all of us.  We drove through the night to get to Crossette. 

I have a lot of good memories of my Papaw Thoma.  I look forward to the day when I can spend time with him again.