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News / Northwest

World War II veteran from Idaho turns 100

Floyd Thomason of Lewiston took part in Pacific battles

By Elaine Williams, Lewiston Tribune
Published: February 9, 2024, 2:02pm

LEWISTON, Idaho — Floyd Thomason may have never celebrated his 100th birthday without bad weather in the Pacific Ocean.

Thomason, a Navy veteran, 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. 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. On Feb. 4, he turned 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 Feb. 3 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 his 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 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.

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

‘Never be afraid’

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.”

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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 conflict 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 the crew 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. It turned out to be his cousin.

“Because he had a back injury, he couldn’t take care of his own needs,” Thomason said.

Thomason helped his cousin 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.