Captain Wilbur Jack Thomas biography
The El Dorado/Captain Jack Thomas Memorial Airport was named after a local hero, Captain Wilbur Jackson Thomas, a World War II ace fighter pilot.
Captain Thomas (October 29, 1920 – January 28, 1947) was born and raised in El Dorado and attended El Dorado High School and El Dorado Junior College. He first joined the Navy in 1941 and was trained as a bomber pilot. He was soon transferred to the Marine Corps Aviation Unit.
Captain Thomas flew with the United States Marine Corp VMF-213 Hellhawks from 1943 to 1947 during World War II. He served in the South Pacific, making three trips into combat at Guadalcanal and Munda as a Hellcat Squadron Member. He later boarded the USS Essex, making more than 50 landings aboard and participating in six strikes against an airfield south of Tokyo, Mitsublahl Lama Factory and Naha. In the Solomons area, he made more than 100 strikes against installations around New Georgia, Kolumbangori and Bouganville. He was shot down once and floated in a raft for 15 hours about 10 miles off Treasury Island. Thomas is listed as the seventh best flying ace in the Marine Corps for World War II and the Korean War. He is credited with bagging 18 ½ enemy planes. He was awarded the Navy Cross, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.
At the end of WWII, Thomas joined a group that called themselves “The Navy’s Flying Might,” part of an air show started when the government needed money to finance bringing back the people and equipment that was over and beyond the current war bond. The Navy recruited pilots who had seen a lot of action as a booster squadron attack.
On a routine mission out of El Toro, Calif., Thomas ran into a heavy rain storm and struck a 4,200-foot high slope near Saddleback Mountain. News of his death was received in El Dorado on Jan. 30, 1947 by telegram.
Thirty-eight years after Thomas lost his life, the El Dorado airport dedication was held, naming it the El Dorado/Captain Jack Thomas Memorial Airport.
* This information was compiled from local newspaper reports.