- [S23] Atchley Funeral Home, (http://www.atchleyfuneralhome.com/), 22 Feb 2004.
Travis Harols Breeden obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 1 Jun 2005.
Day filled with emotion for mother of fallen soldier
From Staff Reports June 01, 2005
SEVIERVILLE - A mother's memories of her fallen son will echo for eternity in red, white and blue.
During the Memorial Day service at the Sevier County Courthouse Monday, Gayle Thomas placed a wreath in honor of her only son Sgt. Paul William Thomason III, who died in March serving his country in Iraq. Thomason, 37, was a member of the National Guard's 278th Regimental Combat Team and the first combat fatality for the unit.
When the somber memorial service was over, Thomas was cool and contained as sympathetic veterans shook her hand, but her watery eyes told a different story. In a cracked voice, she said it was "hard praising a wreath when your own son is ..."
Thomas's words came slowly.
"The sacrifice he gave for his country was for freedom," she said. "He was a great son, always loved the military. I am honored to call him my son. I'll never get over this. I'll take this to my grave with me."
As Thomas spoke, her eyes looked across the courthouse lawn toward groups of young and old soldiers dressed in their military uniforms. Some of these men and women had lost friends and family members who served in the military.
"I want to thank all the veterans, the ones who are still missing, the ones still over there fighting for our country," she said. "Everybody needs to support them all they can."
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 11 Jul 2005.
Museum holds patriotic anniversary celebration
By: J.J. KINDRED, Staff Writer July 11, 2005
Photos by J.J. Kindred
Gayle Thomas, mother of slain 2/278th soldier Sgt. Paul W. Thomason III, plants roses outside of the museum during a ceremony in his honor, with other family members present.
A special dedication ceremony was conducted in honor of Sgt. Paul Thomason III, the local soldier serving in Iraq with the 2/278th Regiment who was killed in March. Several of Thomason's family members were present.
Family members planted roses at the side of the museum in his memory.
"This makes me feel so great," said Gayle Thomas, mother of the fallen soldier. "This goes to show that (my son) didn't die in vain. I appreciate the support this county has given him. I am honored to have such fine people in the county and all over."
At the beginning of the event, onlookers watched as the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America held a ceremony by disposing of a faded American flag and raising a new one in its place, following a proclamation that was read aloud.
Immediately following, the Rolling Thunder, a organization of POWs and MIAs that served during the Vietnam War, had a flag-raising ceremony of their own, honoring those who served during that period and the current troops in Iraq.
"It is great to get the word out that we have the museum," said Marvin West, master of ceremonies for the event and owner of West Productions, which is next door to the museum in downtown Sevierville. "We like to say it's the best kept secret in Sevier County. With more events like this and future events, we could get more people in here."
A special presentation was given inside the museum to conclude the festivities, as the cradle of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, was presented by Bill Yett, one of Sevier's native-born descendants, and his family.
The cradle has been passed from Valentine Sevier, the governor's brother, to Yett's mother and ultimately to Yett himself.
"We appreciate the respect of the heritage you have for East Tennessee," Assistant County Mayor Ken Maples, the host for the ceremony, told Yett and his family. "We often forget the heritage of the county and to remember where we came from. We also like to remember those who lost their lives for this country, and this museum does that."
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 6 Nov 2007.
Gold Star Mother helps others with same loss
By: STAN VOIT Editor
November 06, 2007
Parents aren't supposed to outlive their children. When Gayle Thomas lost her only son and oldest child to the war in Iraq in 2005, it shattered her world. It would have done the same to any loving parent.
In the two and a half years since Paul Thomason III died in a vehicle explosion, Thomas has had a hard time getting over it. But she has found new purpose in her life as a Gold Star Mother. Before her son was killed, she didn't even know what a Gold Star Mother was.
"I knew about Blue Star Mothers," she said. "I was a Blue Star Mother, which means a mother with a child serving in war."
That Paul Thomason III ended up in the military was no surprise to anyone who remembers him as a child playing with his G.I. Joes and army tanks and talking about being a soldier one day. Right after getting his diploma at Sevier County High School in 1986 he joined the Air Force. In 2003 he enlisted in the Army National Guard.
"He thought that might mean a trip to Iraq," his mother said. "Being a mother I told him he should think about those things before he got into the Guard, with the way things were going after 9/11. His answer to me was, 'I'll be OK. It's what I've got to do. I don't want those terrorists over here.' Paul had a real sense of duty and country."
Thomason left for Iraq on Father's Day in 2004. The last time she had seen him was when he was training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi prior to being shipped out.
On March 20, 2005, Thomas was waiting for her son's usual Sunday call. He had talked to his wife Amanda and their children as well as his father on Saturday. It got to be mid-afternoon and there was no call. She turned on the television and saw reports of an explosion in Iraq.
"I got so restless my husband took me to my daughter April's house. Amanda and I always said that if anything happens to Paul, I'd call her if I found out first, and she'd call me if she found out first. I got to my daughter's house and sat down, and the phone rang. It was Amanda telling me Paul was dead."
In the days after she and her family buried the oldest of her three children, Thomas found she had nobody to talk to about it, no one to share her feelings about losing a son to the war in Iraq. Then she read where a Lenoir City resident, Stephen Kennedy, had died in Iraq on April 4.
"I asked my husband (Roger) to take me to the funeral. He said no. I just had to go. When I got there I walked in and looked at his mother's eyes. I could tell the pain in her face. I told her I had lost my son in Iraq in March. 'Come with me,' she said. She held me and we talked a long time. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses. Within three months she called me, and from that day forward we have talked almost every day."
Thomas introduced Mrs. Kennedy to the Gold Star Mother program, which recognizes mothers who have lost a child to war. During World War I a Blue Star signified a house where a member of the family was serving. As that war went on and casualties resulted, the Gold Star designation evolved. The Gold Star was superimposed over the Blue Star to show the supreme sacrifice made by a family member in war.
In 1929 American Gold Star Mothers Inc. was formed by 25 women living in Washington. Today there is a chapter in many states and a drive to raise money for a Washington monument.
Gayle Thomas makes no secret of her status as a Gold Star Mother. She often wears a pin and a necklace. Drive by her New Center house and you'll see the Gold Star in at least two windows. And she discusses the organization whenever she's asked.
She has talked with the Seymour family of Victoir Lieurance, who died in Iraq in 2006. She has counseled other others who have lost sons to war.
Thomas remains saddened by her own loss. Her bedroom is filled with photos and memorabilia of Paul Thomason's childhood and military service. She remains supportive of the war in Iraq, while still consoling parents who feel differently after losing a son.
"If I was the last mother standing," she said, "I'd still be standing there for my son and the other sons. The ones who know me know my struggle. I've changed, but I know families need support."
Thomas would like to meet and talk to other mothers who have lost children in war. If interested in talking about it, call her at 428-7065.
- [S84] E-Mail, April Thomas [email@example.com], 24 Jun 2009.
- [S76] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume III, 1974-1986, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 5 Mar 1984.
James Anderson Graves obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 23 May 2014.
SCHS graduate's mother recalls his life, death
Gayle Thomas holds a photo of her son, Paul Thomason, who was killed March 20, 2005 in Kirkuk, Iraq, when his military vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.
SEVIERVILLE — Gayle Thomas can't help it.
It happens, every so often, to almost all mothers in her situation.
"You still just wait on him, hoping he's going to come back (home)," Thomas, of Sevierville, said, staring wistfully into space. "You just wait, and it's not going to happen.
"We know that. But you have to take it a day at a time."
Thomas lost her son, Spc. Paul William Thomason, a 1986 Sevier County High graduate, when a vehicle he was driving in Kirkuk, Iraq, struck an improvised explosive device on March 20, 2005.
It was a day that changed her life forever.
Joining the cause
Paul, nicknamed "Smiley" for his cheery disposition, had joined the Air Force straight out of SCHS in 1986. He did four years of service and then came home to East Tennessee, where he settled with his wife and four children in Jefferson County. He worked as an electrician and carpenter.
Then came September 11, 2001.
Like many red-blooded Americans, Paul was incensed. "It really did (affect him)," Gayle Thomas remembered.
In November 2003, he enlisted in the National Guard and was assigned to the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard.
It wasn't too long until he was called up to service.
"He really didn't want me to know he was even going — that they'd been called up," Thomas said. "His wife said, 'You better call and tell your mother.' At first it was like this little email he sent, and then the reality (hit). For a mother it's devastating to know they're going to have to go into (war)."
Getting the call
"I was babysitting one of my grandchildren the day (it) happened," she remembered. "(I was) waiting on Paul to call me, and I'm going, 'Something's wrong.'"
Paul didn't get a chance to call home often. He'd talked to his father, Thomas' ex-husband, the day before, as well as his children.
"And he was going to call me on Sunday," Thomas said. "(But) they went out on Sunday, and they didn't come back in."
When a call finally came, it was one she'd already mentally considered, though those thoughts had in no way readied her for what was to come.
"Amanda (Paul's wife) and I had already said we'll call each other ... if anything like that did happen," Thomas said. "And she did. I knew that call was it."
Learning to cope
Unlike prior American wars and conflicts, which involved vast numbers of U.S. citizens on the front lines, the War on Terror has had less individual involvement and less death.
Which, in a way, can make it harder for families of those soldiers who have perished.
"My whole world was turned upside down," Thomas said. "(And) when it first happens ...we just don't know what to do. I didn't.
"I didn't know anything, and I'm going, 'What am I going to do?'" Though there weren't many other mothers in the area going through what Thomas was, she did have support.
Her daughters, Christal and April, were there. She also got help from area veterans groups: the DAV and the American Legion Auxiliary.
She also got support from families who had lost children in previous American conflicts, specifically Rev. Melvin and Eunice Carr, who lost a son, Dannie, during Vietnam.
"He encouraged me and helped me a lot," Thomas said. "They're terrific people."
It was something that Thomas decided to pay forward, both as a help to other families and to herself.
A month after Paul's death, Lenoir City's Stephen Kennedy — another guardsman from the 278th — was killed in Iraq.
"I had my husband take me over to that mother at the funeral home," Thomas said. At the funeral, she approached Kennedy's mother with a slip of paper that included her name, address and phone number.
"About three months later she called, and we talked, and we've done that ever since," she said. "It's from one (family) to the next."
On days like tomorrow, Memorial Day, things can be especially tough.
"We all get really emotional in knowing the sacrifice our children made," Thomas said. "To hear the Taps and the things we go through. (But) every day to us is Memorial Day.
"There's not a day we don't think about our children. I can look out and see the last time I saw him stepping out on the porch. And you lose it sometimes, because you don't have that anymore."
She does take solace, however, in knowing Paul died doing something he believed in.
"He didn't want (war) to happen here, and he died trying to prevent that, I'm sure," she said.
- [S23] Atchley Funeral Home, (http://www.atchleyfuneralhome.com/), 8 Dec 2015.
Roger Eugene Thomas obituary