In Memory of Richard "Rick" Thomas........1st Platoon
As for your Currahee Brothers at Charlie Company we wish to say that you are now, and will continue to be missed. "Welcome Home".
"Thank you brother for a job well done". Until we meet again my friend ..... "Currahee"......"Stands Alone"
Richard "Rick" Thomas.....53 Died February 7th, 2002 in Omaha, Nebraska Born: February 18, 1949 Survived By: His Wife Sheryl and Daugther Leah
Richard L. “Rick” Thomas
Born 18 Feb. 1949 - Died 7 Feb. 2002
Story by Leigh Freeman Photos are courtesy of Mike Womack
To begin with, some of you Charlie Company guys who read this tribute already know that Rick Thomas was one of the unsung heroes on Hill 902. It was said that the way he "overworked" his M-60 Machinegun that early July morning probably saved some GI lives. At least that was the way I heard it back at Camp Evans later that same day. The only time I ever heard Rick talk about Hill 902 was sitting before a campfire on a dark summer night in 1980. We had camped along the Missouri River miles below Omaha. But because of the excellence of the smoke and alcohol we were sharing, I don’t remember a word Rick had said that night.
Rick Thomas and I (Leigh Freeman) began our friendship in mid-November 1969 when we were drafted out of Omaha, Nebraska on the same day. Rick and I completed basic and AIT at Ford Ord together. We flew to Long Binh, South Vietnam, changed planes and flew to Phu Bai. Then we were trucked to Camp Evans, and were jeeped over to the 2/506th area and was then assigned to Company C (Charlie Company). We walked over to Charlie Company rear area, and were immediately placed on a chopper and skyed-up from Camp Evans to join first platoon on FSB Ripcord on 7 May 1970. Being a big-guy, Rick was given an M-60 Machinegun and I was assigned to be his Assistant Gunner and carried his extra ammo belts. Charlie Company left FSB Ripcord about a week later. To Rick and me, it seemed we were the Army’s buddy plan long before there was an official Army Buddy plan.
The second or third day in the jungle, it began to rain. Sergeant Ives (whom everyone called “Burl”) said that since this time of year was not the monsoon season, the rain won’t last very long. In monsoon season, Burl explained, the rain lasted for days without end. But this was May, and Burl reassured us that the rain would end that night or the next day at the most. He was wrong….It lasted ten days. Ten days of miserable rainy conditions. Living in wet fatigues and boots while clawing and crawling through the jungle was torture for "FNG's" (F**king New Guy’s) like Rick and me. The physical suffering, however, was bearable when compared to the visual agony that was to follow.
Me and Sgt. “Burl” Ives going to Eagle Beach, July 1970
A (Monkee Paw) wait-a-minute vine or a sharply sliced end of bamboo tore off the entire seat of Sgt. Ives’ pants. Burl did not wear any underwear. His bare-naked butt was exposed to the world to see (meaning those following directly behind him). Being Sgt. Ives’ two new cherries, Rick and I had to hump along just behind Ives’ bear ass every day. Each day we move through the jungle in a single-file formation. Rick and I climbed up the rainy mountains, and Burl’s bare butt was constantly in our faces. Nobody had an extra set of fatigue pants for him. The rain and cloud cover prevented the resupply of food and fatigues, or anything else. When Charlie Company came to any prolonged stops along the jungle trail, Ives would sit down on the muddy trail. So, when he stood up, it looked like he had a diarrhea explosion. Rick and I were less than delighted by this sickening scene. For days, Rick and I clashed over which one of us was going to be the first one behind Sgt. Burl while we continued ascending or descending the mountainsides.
Since Rick and I were Sgt. Burl’s M-60 team, we set up our NDP spots together during that rainy period. First, we’d dig a foxhole of mud and rainwater, which we were assured we’d find very homey if the NVA ever came around. Then, Rick and I tied-up our little poncho hootch. The rain had soaked through our rucksacks and our poncho liners. However, between our wet fatigues and the cold mountain air, a wet poncho liner was better than nothing at all.
One night, the rain came down even harder. Between Rick and me, we cussed-out Burl for how wrong he was about the rain ending soon. At sometime in the middle of that black rainy night, a fast-running stream of water flowed between us and under us. Rick and I couldn’t see this little river very well, but we could sure feel it. Our poncho liners and our jungle fatigues were soaked as if we had been in a full bathtub together. Even though we were adequately covered by our hootch, the rain water flowed down from the hill behind us. This cold water flooded most of our hootch floor. Neither one of us slept well, mostly, not at all. And together, Rick and I sat up and shivered from being cold and wet.
Finally, I said to Rick, “Look Rick, I’m not queer, but if we put these poncho liners together and get under them, our combined body heat could maybe stop the chills and we can get some sleep.” Rick said okay. So we placed our wet selves to the left of the stream running between us, and we covered up with the two wet poncho liners. And it worked out well. The shivering stopped and we finally slept. By first light, our combined body heat had partly dried-out our fatigues and most of our poncho liners. Of course, as soon as we took down the hootch, the rain quickly drenched us to the bone again. We worked off the morning chill by packing up our gear, the guns, and our grenades, only to begin another rainy day of up and down the mountains with Burl’s big “brown eye” staring at us.
It was some seven, eight, or nine years later back in Omaha, Rick married Sheryl at Omaha’s Dundee Presbyterian Church. At the wedding reception, my wife and I finally made our way to the head of the receiving line where Rick and Sheryl stood greeting all their guests. After introductions, Rick said to his new bride, “This is the only man I’ve ever slept with.” You should have seen the look on Sheryl’s face.
I wish I could say that Rick and I remained close after that. But marriage, jobs, and kids all took their priority.
Rick loved God, his lovely wife Sheryl, and his beautiful daughter Leah.
Rick’s funeral took place at Dundee Presbyterian Church in February of 2002. It was a bright, sun-shiny day.
-- Your Friend and Buddy "Always", Leigh Freeman --
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