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World War II vet hits 100

Lewiston Morning Tribune - 2/4/2024

Feb. 4—Floyd Thomason may have never celebrated his 100th birthday without bad weather in the Pacific Ocean.

A Navy veteran, Thomason's vessel was supposed to be at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed the military base in a surprise attack that prompted the United States to enter World War II.

Thomason was on the USS Northampton, a heavy cruiser, just a little smaller than a battleship. The Northampton had just accompanied two aircraft carriers that had transported aircraft to Guam and was returning.

It was supposed to arrive in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1941. But a storm slowed its progress and it ran out of fuel, so it had to wait to be resupplied.

"We came in the morning of the eighth after it's all been torn up," Thomason said. "Everything's on fire, bodies floating in the bay and ships laying on their sides. It was quite a mess."

The Northampton's crew, including Thomason, went on to play an important role in the United States' battle against the Japanese. The sailors on the Northampton were in 13 major engagements, including the Battle of Midway and the Doolittle Raid.

Thomason survived and returned to the United States to raise a family and earn a living in numerous professions. Today, he turns 100 years old.

He lives on his own in a modest apartment in Lewiston, not far from one of his grown daughters. Family and friends attended a party Saturday with cake at the Lewiston Community Center.

Thomason, two of his daughters, a grandson, a great-granddaughter and a great-great-granddaughter who was born in December posed for a photograph.

The gathering honored a man who has filled his life with adventures that started long before he joined the Navy.

He spent much of his childhood on a southern Idaho ranch adjacent to another ranch where an aunt, uncle and cousins lived.

They attended classes in a one-room schoolhouse 4 miles away, walking or riding on horseback. Some years there were only two other students at the school besides Thomason, his siblings and their cousins.

"Winter weather was pretty bad," he said. "I can't remember very many days that we didn't go to school. We would put on more clothing and warm boots and take off down the road."

He completed the eighth grade and then started working on the ranch and dabbling in rodeo.

"We did cowboy work just like you see in John Wayne movies," Thomason said. "We trailer the cattle from the summer pastures to the winter feed grounds. We forged rivers with them and we would lay out on the prairie overnight with a saddle for a pillow."

At the age of 17, he and his cousin joined the Navy, perhaps seeking a change in scenery.

Thomason's assignment on the Northampton was to shoot down incoming Japanese aircraft with a 50-caliber machine gun.

"We had to go out there and take those islands back from the Japanese one by one," he said.

At one stage they were out to sea for 91 days without seeing land. He has no memory of his 18th birthday.

"We were just out doing battle, out to sea," Thomason said. "Nobody baked a cake or anything. It was just another day."

The fighting didn't scare him, he said.

"That was one of the things they taught us is to never be afraid during battle," Thomason said. "If you're afraid, you'll make mistakes. But if you keep your head and concentrate on the job you have to do, everything will come out. I find that to be right."

Besides Pearl Harbor, one of Thomason's most vivid memories of the war was the night his ship sank during the Battle of Tassafaronga. The battle started when U.S. forces attempted to stop the Japanese from resupplying their troops on Guadalcanal.

"It was the blackest night I ever saw, not even a star showing," he said. "We went in there to stop that landing and that's when they got two torpedoes into our ship and we sank — slowly, but we sank."

The ship laid on its side, so much so that they walked into the water instead of jumping off, Thomason said.

About 15 minutes after they were in the water in lifejackets, he heard someone calling for help who turned out to be his cousin.

"Because he had a back injury," Thomason said, "he couldn't take care of his own needs."

Thomason helped him up onto a 10-foot-by-10-foot wooden platform, part of a vessel that had remained intact during the attack. They waited there until they were rescued the next morning by American ships.

His cousin was taken to a hospital in San Francisco where he recovered completely. Thomason was assigned to an air base in Indiana where he remained until he was discharged.

Back home in the United States, Thomason raised five children and held multiple jobs, including as an auto mechanic, airplane mechanic, sawmill employee, gas station owner, welder, electrician, platinum miner and inventor.

He intermittently worked for R.A. Hanson, helping with designs for combine cabs and heavy equipment. Along the way, he earned a pilot's license and owned four planes.

"He was smart enough that he learned on the job, watching people," said his youngest daughter, Susan Hall.

Occasionally he met celebrities. During a stint as a service representative for a car dealership in Oakland, Calif., he got to know the country musician Freddie Hart, who would bring his 1958 Pontiac to the business for maintenance.

"He could sing OK, but when you talked to him, he stuttered," Thomason said.

The running joke in the family was that anytime they went on vacation, Thomason liked the destination so much they would move there.

Once they relocated to Montana about a year after they traveled there on a trip where they also visited Canada.

They were tiring of the urban lifestyle in California and Thomason spotted an opportunity in Montana. He contacted a relative who owned a sawmill in Kalispell and got a job.

Now that he's 100, he's slowed down. His two sons are gone. He often uses a walker after he slipped following a medical appointment and broke his leg a third time.

The other breaks were in a skiing accident and when a tree fell on him while he was clearing land for power lines on one of his properties.

Hall stops by often to help him with housekeeping, but he still makes his bed every day, dusts and even cleans his floors.

Just like when he was younger, he said, staying active keeps life interesting.

Williams may be contacted at or (208) 848-2261.


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