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101-year-old veteran promotes to major, reflects on service

  • Published
  • By Jessica L. Kendziorek
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Fifty-five years after his retirement, World War II veteran Capt. Thomas Dewey Adams Jr., 101 years old, was granted an honorary promotion to major during a ceremony held at his home, April 29. 

Col. Stuart Rubio, 403rd Wing commander, presided over the ceremony held in Adams’s home. 

“It is important that we remember what our service men and women did before us, and what their service and sacrifice meant to our country,” Rubio said. “It was an honor to be the one to promote him to major.” 

Adams career path to major began 81 years ago. As one of 400 service members in the first class at Keesler Air Field, Adams began serving his country in the Army Air Corps in 1941 at 20 years old. 

Once he completed basic training, Adams went on to become an aircraft electrical systems instructor on specialized cargo aircraft like the Douglas C-47 Skytrain and the Douglas C-54 Skymaster at the Gulfport Army Air Base. 

While instructing at Gulfport Army AB, he became an area supervisor and was later promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. 

It was also during this time that he was selected for a combat crew as a flight engineer on a B-29 Superfortress. After a year of training, his crew joined the 19th Bombardment Group and was sent to Guam, where he was promoted to a flight officer. In 1945, he participated in 24 bombing missions against Japan, totaling 379 combat flight hours.   

“One (bombing) run I remember the most was when we had to bail out,” said Adams laughing. “My butt still hurts from that ... ‘cause I landed on it.” 

He went on to describe that as he was coming down, he could see two Marines, set up on the hillside and so that is where he steered his chute. 

“Big mistake. I landed wrong,” he said. “I got picked up by this big ‘ole boy, he picked me up with one hand, and my chute and gear with the other and just hauled me down to the Navy’s clinic that was set up nearby.” 

Adams reenlisted as a master sergeant after WWII because the flight officer position he was in as a B-29 flight engineer was only a temporary position

“So, I made sergeant twice,” Adams said. 

He then went to work on the Manhattan Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico, then transferred to a bomb group that flew training missions out of Roswell, New Mexico. 

At the creation of the Air Force in 1947, Keesler switched over from the Army Air Corps and began looking to replenish their instructors and supervisors. That is when Adams’ name came up on their list. Keesler leaders requested that he become an electrical branch supervisor, so he returned to the Gulf Coast. 

“Clearly, he has had a great effect on a large number of people. For them to be here and see that work and that service recognized, it’s really important.”- Col. Stuart Rubio, 403rd Wing commander

Adams also spent time at Sheppard Air Force Base, in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he worked as an air mechanic technician.  

At the start of the Korean War, he was assigned to a fighter squadron and sent to Korea as a maintenance superintendent, and then he moved from there to the Philippines, which is where he made the final transition from an enlisted member to an officer. 

“I did about a year in Korea,” he said. “Then went to the Philippines and while I was in there, I was promoted to warrant officer and served as a maintenance officer.” 

After the Philippines, Adams served as a jet fighter squadron maintenance officer. He also worked at Traux Field in Madison, Wisconsin, and then transferred to Ernest Harmon AFB, Stephenville, Newfoundland, where he worked from 1957 to 1960 as the aircraft maintenance officer for the 323rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron. There, he worked with the Convair F-102A and the TF-102A Delta Dagger aircraft.  

“I have always worked around planes,” he said. “Even the electrical instructing was on aircraft, or I was a maintenance officer. 

In 1960, Adams and his family returned to the Gulf Coast, this time to Louisiana where he was a maintenance control officer in the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing. 

He spent his last six years there before deciding to retire from military service. 

Little did he know, he had been selected for promotion to major, but now was not going to be able to pin it on. Transferring into the Inactive Ready Reserve, he moved to Pass Christian and began working as a contractor at the Stennis Space Center for NASA. 

Another 20-year career later, he retired completely. 

Learning about his missed promotion, Adams began petitioning for an honorary promotion, and now 55 years later, in the 75th Anniversary Year of the Air Force, Air Force Reserve (Ret.) Capt. Thomas Dewey Adams, Jr. was granted his honorary promotion to major. 

Rubio presented Adams with his major rank at Adams’ house, surrounded by a large group of friends and family. 

“You can see the joy on his face, and to see the number of folks who came here to honor him is overwhelming,” Rubio said. “Clearly, he has had a great effect on a large number of people. For them to be here and see that work and that service recognized, it’s really important.” 

In Adams’ honor, members of the Pass Christian’s fire and police departments showed up to attend the ceremony and sounded sirens in his neighborhood as they departed. 

In addition to his promotion, Adams was presented a handmade quilt acknowledging his service to his country by the Quilts of Valor Foundation.