History in Focus: Lorie C. Thomas — 14 months
The brief life of Lorie C. Thomas was a whirlwind of moves across the country, then over to Europe as one of millions of Americans scattered across the globe to confront the evil of fascism and militarism during World War II. It took just 14 months for Thomas to leave Craig, get shipped to England as a B-17 ball turret gunner and fly 11 bombing missions over all parts of Europe.
Lorie was born in 1922 in Oklahoma. We don’t know much about his life in that area, but the 1930 and 1940 census records show his family had relocated to Canon City, 50 miles west of Pueblo. By April of 1941, a drilling report in the Craig Empire Courier reported Lorie’s father, Stanley, was setting up a rig in the Dry Lakes area south of Maybell. By 1945, he was employed by the Spangler drilling company and working in the Hiawatha oil fields. Lorie never appears in the archives of the Moffat County newspapers, so we know very little about his short time here.
However, World War II took a keen interest in the young and unmarried Lorie. On June 16, 1943, he was inducted into the Army Air Corps. As a ball turret gunner (positioned on the underside of a B-17) he was shipped to England as part of the 334th Squadron of the 95th Bomb Group in the 8th Air Force. He flew his first mission over France on July 8, 1944. During the next five weeks, Lorie would fly 10 more missions over France, the Netherlands, Germany and even twice into the far reaches of Nazi-controlled Poland.
Now, try to picture the immensity and power of the following situation: On Aug. 16, 1944, the 8th Air Force dispatched 1,090 bombers and 692 fighters from southeast England to fan out across Germany and strike 14 separate targets. Lorie was aboard the B-17 “Patty Ann,” and, along with 100 other B-17’s, he was headed towards Zeitz, roughly 2 1/2 hours south of Berlin. Their mission was to bomb an oil refinery that was busily converting locally mined coal into synthetic fuel.
Along the bombing run, the Patty Ann was suddenly and mortally wounded by flak. According to the Missing Air Crew Report, the plane was thrown onto its back, went into a steep dive, flattened out once, then continued its death dive to earth. Thomas, pilot Lou Price and radio operator William Dixon were killed in action. The rest of the crew parachuted to safety and were captured by the Nazis.
The facts of Lorie’s 11th mission were slow to reach the Thomas family back in Craig. Lorie was declared Missing in Action, and the family was forced to wait for more information. After four long and agonizing months, the Craig Empire Courier reported in a short, emotionless and factual blurb that his parents “received word from the War Department December 23, that he was killed in acton August 16.”
With Stanley and Nellie’s worst fears confirmed, and with two other sons serving in the Army, it is impossible to comprehend the quiet suffering they endured in an empty house on Christmas day, 1944.
Lorie’s remains were returned to the Allied forces and buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery in Saint-Avold, France. He is one of 10,489 Americans resting peacefully on 113 acres of beautiful rolling terrain. His short time in Craig and the sacrifice his parents endured is fittingly remembered with his name on the World War II Memorial in Veteran’s Park, just behind the VFW.
On a cool autumn afternoon in 1914 Hayden, a human being was seen occupying space previously reserved for only birds, clouds and celestial bodies. It was a monumental occasion — one that shook the very fiber of reality for the people of Northwest Colorado.