Port Charlotte, Fla. man saw action in Sicily during World War II

Maston Thomas of South Port Square in Port Charlotte, Fla. joined the Navy six months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

“I was a telephone lineman working at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville,” the 90-year-old World War II vet recalled. “The base communications officer talked me into applying for a Naval commission. I applied, and five weeks later I was an ensign in the U.S. Navy with no military training at all.”

He became a communications officer with an amphibious unit attached to the 8th Fleet headed for North Africa and the fighting in Sicily in 1942.

“The first time I met (Gen. George) Patton was onboard ship just offshore during the invasion of Sicily. He was on the bridge with some of his staff and so was Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who had quite a movie career before joining the Navy during the Second World War.

“‘Stuka!’ Fairbanks yelled as the German dive-bomber came out of the sun headed right for our headquarters ship. Patton just stood there and so did the rest of us because there was no place to go. The bomb just missed us,” Thomas said.

The fleet pounded the enemy shore batteries, and there wasn’t a lot of resistance from the Italian units that were holding that section of Sicily. Thomas went ashore right after the first wave to establish radio communication with the fleet in a doctor’s home on a bluff overlooking the beach.

“The second day we were ashore, Patton came down in his command car and told us we were going to have to hold the beachhead because the Hermann Goering Division, an elite tank unit, had broken through his lines,” Thomas said. “Our destroyers offshore had spotters ashore, and with their help the Navy knocked off a bunch of the Germans’ Tiger tanks.”

Thomas had a couple more Patton stories.

“About the same time Patton issued an order that every officer had to wear a tie, and that included the Navy. We complained about that one.

“Another thing Patton did was steal our liquor supply we brought from Norfolk. We appealed to our fleet admiral, and the admiral made him give our liquor back,” he said.

“The next night there were a lot of enemy fighter planes flying over our beachhead. I was sitting in the signal station atop the hill watching planes being shot down in flames by our anti-aircraft guns along the shore,” he said. “What I found out the next day was a flight of American paratroopers flew in, in transports right behind a group of enemy torpedo planes that had been attacking us. Allied gunners shot down the paratroopers’ transports by mistake. Patrol boats were picking up bodies for days. It was a big mistake.”

A few months later he was involved with the invasion of Southern France by Allied forces.

“We were to go in on the second day and set up communications with the fleet. When the day came the weather was almost perfect. As we were waiting in a transport ship about a mile off the beach, a girl in a bikini swam out to our ship and cautioned us about two German machine gun nests on both end of the beach we were to land on. We knocked out both machine guns nests before we landed,” he said.

“We were the first American unit to arrive in Marseilles. Both sides of the road were lined with joyous people throwing flowers at us and giving us stuff to eat and drink. Going into Marseilles was one of the thrills of World War II for me,” Thomas said.

By this time he was a lieutenant in charge of a radio communications center that communicated with the 8th Fleet offshore. Their radios were located on the top floor of a bank building in downtown Marseilles, where they could watch the goings-on in the city below them.

“Each morning they would bring a group of French collaborators out, stand them up against a wall and shoot them. I watched one of those shootings and that was enough,” he said. “The female collaborators got their heads shaved and then they would run them through the streets of Marseilles naked.”

About the time the Battle of the Bulge was taking place, in December 1944, Thomas got orders to return to the states. He had spent more than enough time in the war zone, according to the powers that be.

“Ten days before Christmas I wrote my wife, Jacqueline, I’d be home for Christmas. I didn’t make it back to Miami until the day after Christmas. She was serving as a lieutenant working in anti-submarine warfare,” he said.

Thomas hardly made it home before he was reassigned to teach midshipman school at Notre Dame University. He served the remainder of the war as a Naval expert without ever receiving any formal training.

When he was discharged in 1946, Thomas was a commander in the Navy.

He spent years in the U.S. space program two decades later while working for AT&T. Thomas and his wife retired to Port Charlotte 40 years ago; she has since passed away. They have three grown children, two sons and a daughter.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 27, 2009 and is republished with permission.

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C. Maston Thomas 93, of Port Charlotte, FL passed away Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. Maston was born In Bamburg, SC, April 30, 1919, and moved to Florida in 1925.

He graduated from St. Petersburg Jr. College in 1938 and Georgetown Kentucky College in 1940 where he was a member of KA fraternity. He received his Masters in Industrial Management from MIT in 1951 on a Sloan fellowship program.

Maston joined the Navy in 1940 where he rose to Lt. Commander and served in North Africa, taking part in three Mediterranean invasions Sicily, Naples, and Sardinia during WWII. During his active service he married Jacqueline Carico a WAVE Ensign in 1943.

In 1944, he returned to the U.S. where he taught and was head of the seamanship program at Notre Dame University.

Following his war service, Maston joined AT&T where he spent 38 years as an executive. He was comptroller of Bellcomm, which provided NASA with technical support to put the first man on the moon.

He was treasurer of several AT&T subsidiaries throughout the United States, Canada and Cuba. Maston retired in 1978 and returned to Florida from the New York area and settled in Port Charlotte, FL where he enjoyed golf and other sports.

He was a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America, The Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club and the American Legion while living in Port Charlotte. Survivors include daughter, Jacqueline (Lynn) Thomas-Pitz and son-in-law, Dr. Richard Pitz of Punta Gorda Isles; son, Charles Maston Thomas Jr., and daughter-in-law, Jeannine Thomas of Miami; and son, Maj. (Ret.) Jules Thomas and daughter-in-law, Susan Thomas of Columbus, MS and their two children, Kelly and Robby Thomas; as well as sisters, Katie Hornack and Elise Ewart Maston’s wife of 50 years, Jacqueline “Jac” preceded him in death in 2002.

To light a candle in his memory please visit http://www.kays-ponger.com. Funeral arrangements entrusted to Kays-Ponger Uselton Funeral Home and Cremation Services Port Charlotte Chapel – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sptimes/obituary.aspx?n=c-maston-thomas&pid=162737800#sthash.PX8uZr3I.dpuf

Published in the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 30, 2013

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