ECB Publishing, Inc.
In 1942, an 18-year-old young man from Monticello, Ernest 'Boots' Thomas enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
His enlistment followed only six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor; a tumultuous time for any young man to enlist.
'Boots' Thomas quickly made a name for himself.
Following his completion of boot camp in Parris Island, SC, Thomas remained as an instructor until March of 1944, when Thomas was assigned to E. Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment in the 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton in California.
In September, his company was sent to train in Hawaii, and in the following January of 1945, only 20 years old, Boots Thomas, now a Sergeant, was shipped out with his division for Iwo Jima.
This would begin the lasting heritage and enduring mark left behind by Sgt. Thomas long after his death.
In February of 1945, Sgt. Thomas led his platoon to raise the first American flag on Iwo Jima soil.
The act inspired American troops on the shore and those waiting to land and was an act of valor that would immortalize Sgt. Thomas in the hearts of Monticello, the United States, and the world.
Only eight days later, and a few days short of his 21st birthday, Sgt. Boots Thomas was killed while leading his men in combat on the north end of Iwo Jima.
Posthumously, Sgt. Thomas was awarded the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism, as well as the Purple Heart.
Now, over 70 years later, another honor has been given to the name and heritage that Sgt. Thomas left behind.
On Tuesday, August 7, the Tallahassee VA Health Care Center (located on Orange Avenue) was crowded with veterans, Jefferson and Leon County representatives, the Thomas family, and government leaders as the center was publicly renamed the Sergeant Ernest I. “Boots” Thomas VA Clinic.
The process of renaming dated back to December of 2017, when U.S. Senator Bill Nelson filed legislation to rename the clinic in honor of Sgt. Thomas.
The bill was supported by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Al Lawson, and on Tuesday, June 26 of this year, President Donald Trump signed the name-changing order.
The renaming ceremony on August 7 began with the welcome remarks by Master of Ceremony Thomas Wisnieski, Director of North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, which was followed by a presentation of colors by the Big Bend Honor Guard, the Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, and invocation.
Special guest speakers for the event were Tallahassee's Mayor Pro Tem Curtis Richardson, Leon County Commissioner John Dailey, Congressman Neal Dunn, Congressman Al Lawson, Senator Bill Nelson, Director for the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network Miguel Lapuz, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affair Robert Wilkie, and Lynn Blais, the niece of Sgt. Thomas and representative of the Thomas Family.
Also, sharing a few words about the man who was his best friend before he was a national hero, Dr. Jim Sledge.
“You know, it's been a long road to get to where we are today,” said Dr. Sledge, thanking those who had worked to dedicate the center, which was constructed in 2016, to his friend, Sgt. Boots Thomas.
Senator Bill Nelson spoke about the heroism of the soldiers of Florida, saying that the first Medal of Honor was awarded to a Floridian as well as mentioning decorated World War II pilot, Captain Colin P. Kelly, of Madison.
“The flags that Boots and his fellow Marines raised that day served as more than a sign of strength to the enemy; they served as a beacon of hope to all those U.S. Marines all over that island,” said Senator Nelson. “The bravery of those men who put their own lives on the line inspired people around the world. It was a time when the United States needed that inspiration.”
The final speaker for the program was Lynn Blais, niece of Sgt. Thomas.
“Our family is humbled by the honor of the naming of this beautiful facility. We hope that the veterans who come here receive the very best care our grateful nation can provide,” said Blais.
Following the presentation, refreshments were provided by the Veterans Canteen Service, and a table with war memorabilia, books and newspaper articles regarding Sgt. Thomas was on display.
As of press date, there has been no information on when Sgt. Thomas' name will actually be displayed on the clinic's signage.