Mary Coleman Thomas had just finished celebrating Christmas with her family in 1918 and was preparing for the New Years when she received a telegram on Dec. 27, 1918, informing her that her husband, William Thomas died in France. He was stationed in France when his young life ended at the age of 32. One can only imagine what Mary was feeling on that unusually cold day in December when she received that dreadful telegram. The telegram was from Adjutant General Harris of the United States Army stating that Private Thomas was killed between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2, 1918. The telegram was sent three months after her husband’s death.
Mary never had an opportunity to attend her husband’s funeral. His body was never returned to the United States. For the rest of Mary’s life, she lived with her brother, Henry and his wife at 614 South Saint Asaph Street until her death on April 25, 1934.
Before William was drafted into the United States Army, he and Mary lived at 710 Gibbon Street. He was employed at a fertilizer company in Alexandria until he was drafted in 1917 and shipped off to France in 1918.
Further research of Private William Thomas’s death revealed that he actually died on Sept. 28, 1918. He was buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France in plot C, Row 20 in grave 5. He served with the 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division. On the day of his death, the French newspaper reported that the weather was pleasant and that the farmers were harvesting their crop during the raging war. For the rest of Mary’s life, Christmas holiday reminds her about that fateful day when she received the telegram of her husband’s death.
For the Colored Alexandrians, they remembered Private William Thomas by naming their first Negro American Legion after him. In July 1931, the “First Alexandria Negro American Legion” was named American Legion William Thomas Post No. 129. The National American Legion records showed the permanent official charter date for Post No. 129 was October 1932. The first officers of this Post were L.I. Broadneck (Commander); Sherman Majors (First Vice Commander); James McCallant (Second Vice Commander); Richard Hollinger (Adjutant); George Wilson (Finance Office); William Dixon (Chaplain); and William Tibbs (Sergeant in Arms). Private William Thomas would have been forgotten if it had not been for the American Legion Post No. 129 bearing his name.
Thomas’ parents are unknown, but his wife, Mary Coleman Thomas had lots of family in Alexandria, Va. Her brother Henry Coleman married Grace Massie. Mary was buried by her brother in 1934. Henry died before 1970 and his wife, Grace died on May 5, 1971. She was a retired government worker. Also, Mary had lots of relatives on her mother’s side of the family. Her mother was Laura Lyles Coleman and the Lyles family is still associated with Alexandria.
When I researched Private Thomas, I discovered that Mr. James E. Henson Esq. of Alexandria is the nephew of Grace Massie Coleman. James Henson, Henry Coleman and Mary Coleman Thomas are all descendants of the Alexandria Freedmen’s Cemetery. Also Grace’s nephew, James E. Henson became a Living Legend of Alexandria.
William was a young man when he died, and his death impacted his wife’s health, and she never had closure to his death.
If you are planning a trip to France, please visit the large number of American Veterans who are buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. Those brave Americans never returned home.
Char McCargo Bah is a published author, freelance writer, independent historian, genealogist and a Living Legend of Alexandria. She maintains two blogs, http://www.theotheralexandria.com and http://www.findingthingsforu.com.