Thomas O. Nichols

Staff Sergeant Thomas O. Nichols

Contributed by Mia Moreno
Mentored by Ms. Melissa Andersen
Serrano High School, California
2016-2017
Unit: 326th Bomb Squadron, 92nd Bomber Group, Heavy
Branch: U.S. Army Air Forces
Service Number: 6556174
Date of Birth: February 28, 1914
Entered the Military: October 13, 1942
Date of Death: August 13, 1944
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Place of Death: near Saint-Clair-de-Halouze, France
Award(s): Purple Heart, Air Medal
Cemetery: Plot C, Row 4, Grave 3, Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France

Early Life

Thomas Oliver Nichols was born in 1914 to Alfred Nichols and Minnie Gray Nichols. He was born in Los Angeles, California, the same place where he enlisted 28 years later. In 1920, Thomas lived at 125 75th Street in Los Angeles with his parents and four siblings. Records indicate that his mother, Minnie, died on February 19, 1920. After her death the family split. Census data indicates that Thomas remained with his father in Los Angeles, but did not complete high school. In 1940, Thomas lived with his father and worked as clerk in an auto shop.

Thomas enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Los Angeles, California on October 13, 1942. Enlistment records show that Thomas was single, without dependents, which means that he never married.

The U.S. federal census shows the Nichols family in Los Angeles, California. Records indicate that Minnie Nichols died shortly thereafter. National Archives and Records Administration.The U.S. federal census shows the Nichols family in Los Angeles, California in 1940. National Archives and Records Administration.

Homefront

Before enlisting, Nichols spent his entire life in Los Angeles, California. During World War II, Los Angeles was very popular. The Los Angeles metropolitan area grew faster than any other major area in the U.S. at the time. By 1943 the population of metropolitan Los Angeles was larger than 37 states. By the end of the war, Los Angeles produced over 15% of all of America's war production.

The attack on Pearl Harbor caused great fear among the citizens of Los Angeles. In response to this fear, Japanese-Americans who lived in Los Angeles were sent to internment camps where they were held until the war was over.

A shortage of laborers occurred when the men were sent to war and the Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps. This led to the Bracero Program. This program was an agreement between Mexico and the U.S., which allowed men from Mexico to come into the United States and work in agricultural occupations, such as picking crops for food industries, for a certain time period.

Military Experience

Nichols enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces on October 13, 1942. He was assigned to the 326th Bomber Squadron, 92nd Bomber Group, Heavy. He was eventually promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant. He served as a radio operator on a B-17 bomber crew. Radio operators assisted with navigation and communication, and in combat, served as gunners as well.

The 326th Bomber Squadron was stationed in Bovingdon, England. They participated in the air campaign of the Normandy invasion, and are noted for their success in the Battle of Saint-Lô.

On April 13, 1944 Nichols served as a radio operator on a B-17 (serial number 43-37848). The Boeing aircraft, nicknamed Scrappy Mike, carried a crew of nine men. On August 13, 1944 they were sent to bomb a crossroads in Evreux, France, south of Rouen. The plane was hit by flak and crashed near Saint-Clair-de-Halouze, northwest of Paris. Only one crew member, the waist gunner, Maxwell Hartline, parachuted to safety and evaded capture, eventually returning to duty.

A memorial to the crew stands outside the church in Saint-Clair-de-Halouze. Nichols’ remains were recovered, and laid to rest in Normandy American Cemetery. Two other members of Scrappy Mike’s crew, Second Lieutenant David H. Vance, navigator, and Sergeant Ray E. Thompson, gunner, are also buried in Normandy American Cemetery.

The insignia of the 326<sup>th</sup> Bomber Squadron, 92<sup>nd</sup> Bomber Group. Imperial War Museum (FRE 5077).

Eulogy

August 13, 1944 was the day that Staff Sergeant Thomas O. Nichols died while serving his country. My name is Mia Moreno and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn about the sacrifice Thomas Oliver Nichols made for his country. Nichols grew up in Los Angeles, California before the enlisting in the military. He did not complete high school before he began working as a clerk. He was not married, and had no children.

This particular war hero enlisted into the military October 13, 1942, and was a member of the 326th Bomber Squadron, 92nd Bomber Group, Heavy. He obtained the rank of staff sergeant. While in flight he served as a radio operator and turret gunner. This man risked his life every day for our safety and brought us closer to victory.

What these soldiers were able to accomplish for their country is absolutely amazing. This just shows the love Nichols had in order to secure safety for his family and future generations back home. My heart sinks to the floor, as if I were a part of the Nichols family because, from personal experience, nothing hurts more than losing a loved one who you deeply care about. Knowing the hurt of not being able to see your loved one ever again is difficult to overcome, but that is the price that so many families endured during this time.

The headstone and interment record for Thomas O. Nichols. National Archives and Records Administration.Thomas O. Nichols’ grave at Normandy American Cemetery, October 2017. Courtesy of American Battle Monuments Commission.

Reflection

Researching Thomas Nichols made me realize how important our loved ones are and that we should treasure the time we have with them because we do not know how fast they can be taken away. Finding out about this airman and his home life made me feel more connected to him in a way. I have family members in Los Angeles, and that was where he grew up. In a way, I feel connected to his family as well, yes many lost their lives during the war but personally knowing information about Nichols, I mourn his death as if he were a family member of my own.

I reached a breaking point while researching, just like his family did upon receiving news that their loved one was no longer with them, as I realized that another birthday, another holiday, or simply a another day to hear someone say “I love you” would never happen. This Silent Hero project gave me an opportunity to bring this airman back to life. Discovering little details about him was enough to change my world view. He certainly touched my heart. Even though I will never meet him, I just hope that this memorial will let others feel the connection to history and feel a sense to our lost heroes.

Bibliography

Primary Sources
California, Birth Index. 1905-1995. Thomas O. Nichols. Digital Images. http://ancestry.com.

California, Death Index. 1905-1939. Minnie Nichols. Digital Images. http://ancestry.com.

California. Los Angeles County. 1920 U.S. Census. Digital Images. http://ancestry.com.

California. Los Angeles County. 1930 U.S. Census. Digital Images. http://ancestry.com.

California. Los Angeles County. 1940 U.S. Census. Digital Images. http://ancestry.com.

Photograph, The insignia of the 326th Bomb Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group. Roger Freeman Collection, Imperial War Museum (FRE 5077). Image. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/media/3265.

Records for Thomas Nichols; World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 [Electronic File], Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD [retrieved from the Access to Archival Databases, https://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=3360, October, 10, 2017].

Thomas O. Nichols, Headstone and Interment Records. Digital Images. http://ancestry.com.

Secondary Sources
"326th Bomb Squadron.” American Air Museum in Britain. Updated 2014. Accessed October 11, 2017. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/unit/854.

“B-17 43-37848.” American War Memorials Overseas. Accessed October 11, 2017. http://www.uswarmemorials.org/html/monument_details.php?SiteID=890&MemID....

"B-17 Crewmen Duties and Responsibilities." Hell’s Angels: 303rd Bomb Group (Heavy). Accessed March 20, 2017. http://www.303rdbg.com/crew-duties.html.

“David H. Vance.” American Battle Monuments Commission. American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed October 11, 2017. https://abmc.gov/node/545464#.Wd6JVWhSzIU.

“History of the 326th Bomb Squadron.” 92nd USAAF-USAF Memorial Association. Updated December 7, 2009. Accessed October 11, 2017. http://92ndma.org/326thBSHistory.html.

Osburne, Richard E. "California in World War II: Los Angeles Metropolitan Area during World War II." Updated February 8, 2016. Accessed March 20, 2017. http://www.militarymuseum.org/LAWWII.html.

“Ray E. Thompson.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed October 11, 2017. https://abmc.gov/node/545425#.Wd6J3WhSzIU.

“Thomas O. Nichols.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed March 20, 2017. https://abmc.gov/node/545080#.Wd0PvVtSzIU.

"Thomas O. Nickols [sic].” American Air Museum in Britain. Updated September 27, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2017. http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/212342.