By Cannoneer staffApril 12, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- As a high school student in Tulsa, Okla., Joe Minor Thomas was studious, an athlete and a gentleman, who always thought of others, recalled a classmate. He also loved to cook.
As a senior, Thomas persuaded the other boys in the class to help him prepare and serve the girls their graduation dinner from Booker T. Washington High School in 1965.
Thomas went on to attend Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., but after about a year his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the Army. Thomas became a combat medic and planned to resume college to become a medical doctor after his enlistment.
However, Thomas, 21, was killed in combat Sept. 24, 1967 in Vietnam, while trying to assist wounded Soldiers. For his actions he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
In a tribute to his sacrifice, the Spec. 4 Joe Minor Thomas Troop Medical Clinic was dedicated April 6 at Fort Sill. Hundreds of relatives, friends, Soldiers and dignitaries attended the ceremony at Building 2913 Custer Road. About 30 of his high school classmates were there, too.
"This dedication has given the class honor. It lets us know what we went through was not in vain," said Geraldine McIntosh, class president and a retired librarian from Tulsa. She said she knew of five graduates from the class of 316 students, who were killed in Vietnam. "This ceremony happened at a wonderful time because the school is celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary."
Thomas' siblings unveiled the plaque together with Maj. Gen. David Halverson, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, and Col. Jennifer Bedick, Reynolds Army Community Hospital commander.
"It's beautiful. They did a nice job," said Lucious Thomas, 57, the youngest of the Thomas children, referring to the clinic. "Joe would have been real proud of it."
In his speech, Halverson said that Thomas knew his task was to save his Soldiers.
"His commitment to his country, his fellow warriors are shown by his deeds," Halverson said. His actions that day on the battlefield reflected his committment.
The country is indebted to the Thomas family forever, the general said. "And, this facility will stand forever at Fort Sill."
Bedick said the large showing of his classmates was a testament to Thomas' character.
"Years after (his death), they are still very much respectful of him and think that highly of him," Bedick said. "That is fantastic."
Born Jan. 11, 1947 in Tulsa, Joe Minor Thomas was one of eight children. As a combat medic, Spec. 4th Class Thomas was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry "Blackhorse Regiment."
Lucious, eight years younger than Joe, remembers his brother as very loving.
"He'd get all of us to wrestle and he'd give the winner a pack of gum," Lucious said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, neighborhoods were close-knit through school, sports and church, said McIntosh, who first met Joe at their church when she was in the fourth grade, around 1956.
There were three elementary schools in the area which fed into Carver Junior High School, then all the neighborhood students went to Washington High School, she said.
McIntosh and some other students also attended Northeastern State University with Joe.
"Joe and the guys loved to cook for us," she said. "You know men, every starch in the world, nothing green. It was like a family thing, we enjoyed it immensely."
Robert Ivery, a childhood friend of Joe, called him "a living angel."
"He was very responsible, and one of the best friends I've ever had," said Ivery, who lives in Owasso, Okla.
Wilbert Reed Jr. attended grade school and college with Joe. He remembered Joe participating in football, wrestling and swimming in high school. And, Joe had been seeing one of his relatives.
"Joe was supposed to marry a cousin of mine, Sharon Jeffries, the same year he was killed," Reed said.
Thomas TMC serves Soldiers in the 95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception) as well as officers and enlisted members who are here for advanced training, including the Marine Detachment and Captains' Career Course. The clinic had a soft opening in early January, and has been seeing between 50 and 60 service members a day, said Maj. Jeremy Beauchamp, RACH Soldier Medicine chief.
"It provides head-to-toe primary care," Beauchamp said. Its services include pharmacy and radiology. The clinic is staffed with three doctors with one military officer in charge, one pharmacist, two licensed practical nurses, one head nurse who is an RN, one office manager, a receptionist and a file clerk.
The clinic is modern and was designed with a logical patient-workflow of services in mind, Bedick said. The building was formerly used as a preventive medicine clinic. It underwent a $1.5 million renovation that added 2,500 square feet to the facility, said Robert Dufrin, Thomas TMC office manager.