James R. (J.R.) Thomas, US Army (Ret.), age 73, of Troy, died Monday, June 18, 2012 at Troy Regional Medical Center. A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. at Green Hills Funeral Home with Rev. Robert Allen officiating and Green Hills Funeral Home directing. Visitation will be Wednesday, June 20, 2012 from 12:00 p.m. until 2:00 p.m. at the Funeral Home.
Major Thomas leaves behind his wife, Laura (Janice) Wise Thomas married for 19 yrs.; his daughter, Zelnia “Kay” Thomas Robinson (Donnie); son, James R. Thomas, Jr. (Kim); daughter, Polly Ann Thomas Usery (Rusty); stepson, Steve Twilley; two brothers, Lewis Marion Thomas and Anthony Wayne Thomas; three sisters, Patricia Faye Powell, Julia Mae Gipson, Peggy Ann Robinson; ten grandchildren; ten great grandchildren; ex-wife, Bonnie Thomas of 29 yrs.; and his mother Buelah M. Epley. He was preceded in death by one brother, Alva Wendell Thomas.
Major Thomas was an avid motorcycle rider and owned the Stanley Steamer franchise in troy for 11 yrs. He joined the US Army Special Forces in 1956. He went to Officer Candidate School in 1963 and graduated as a 2nd LT in the Infantry. He went to flight school in 1967, then went to AH-1 Cobra School. In 1968 he became an instructor pilot for the first cobra class at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA. He served two tours in Vietnam. His medals earned while serving in the US Army include: Good Conduct Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnamese Service with 5 Stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60’s device, Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Armed Forces Reserve, Five Overseas Service Bars, National Defense Medal, Senior Army Aviation Badge, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 25th Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Master Parachutist Badge, Meritorious Unit Citation and Ranger Tab.
He became the first Cobra Company Commander for the 101st Airborne Aviation in Fort Campbell, KY, upon its return from Vietnam, where he commanded over 150 personnel. Later, he became the first standardization officer for the 101st Airborne Aviation. He was instrumental in setting up the first flight simulators for Aviators at Fort Campbell, KY. He retired from the US Army in 1976 with 20 years. He continued to serve the military as a test pilot and experimental test pilot for the Cobra and Apache Helicopter until 2009 when he retired. He flew Cobra Helicopters which became the Apache LongBow for 42 years.
He currently served as the State Department Commander for Alabama and was the past commander for Chapter 2205 in Montgomery, AL for 2 years for the Military Order of Purple Heart. He is a member of the Army Aviation Association of America, Association of United States Army, Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, Military Order of Purple Heart, Scottish Rights of Free Masonry, 33rd Degree Mason, a Shriner and Distinguished Flying Cross Life member.
Major Thomas had an illustrious career dedicated to the freedom and protection of this country. His passion was helping veterans acclimate to coming home from war. He lived life to its fullest and leaves behind a legacy for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was a loving husband, father, friend and will be missed.
Members of the Military Order of Purple Heart will serve as pallbearers.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, PO Box 242812, Montgomery, AL 36124-2812.
Family and friends can sign the guest book and order flowers on the website at www.greenhillsfuneralhome.net. The staff of Green Hills Funeral Home is honored to serve the Thomas family.