Observing the 73rd Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, we pay tribute to the oldest living Pearl Harbor Survivor in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Roland Thomas. On February 14, 2013 at a Valentine’s Dance at Cheyenne VA Medical Center, Thomas was the last man standing, literally. How is our local celebrity faring after all these years? Thomas, a former U.S. Navy Seaman First Class, is just as spry and light on his feet in 2013 as he was at age 18 in 1941. Thomas, now 91, was prancing around the dance floor of his residence in the Community Living Center (CLC) of Cheyenne VAMC earlier this year as opposed to dodging bullets on the deck of USS Perry (DMS 17) moored at Pearl Harbor seventy three year ago.
As the world commemorates the Pearl Harbor attack, locally, Cheyenne Veterans reminisce with CLC residents and fellow countrymen who survived similar ordeals. It is inspiring to see Thomas walk the halls of Cheyenne VAMC. On the dance floor, out of approximately 40 guests (residents, staff and families) Thomas was the last man dancing. “His energy is amazing”, said Connie Folk, CLC Nurse Manager. Thomas went through several dance partners with the last being a much younger Navy shipmate (almost half his age), Chief Petty Officer (Retired) Patricia Hill. As Hill watched Thomas twirl one lady after another, finally it was her turn. Thomas turned, and turned, and turned Hill from one swirl through another until she said, “Mr. Thomas, I’m not going to let you wear me out. I’m going home.” It was 8:00 p.m. Everyone was done, except Thomas.
Cheyenne VA Police Officer David Young, who has known Thomas for three years, remarked, “To be a Veteran of Thomas’ age who can clearly articulate that event and still exhibit such joy for life, it is pure entertainment to have a conversation with him”. This survivor is still full of energy. Recreation Therapist, Jennifer Primeaux, asked Thomas what his secret to staying young was, he replied, “lots of libations and female friends”. Thomas is very active. Although he resides at the VA CLC he maintains a home in the community as well. Thomas has his meals and takes his medications at the CLC but several times a week, for a few hours, he gets in his car and drives home to take care of his animals until his “curfew” of 5:00p.m. Yes, he still drives. He is eligible to hold a driver’s license. The Cheyenne VA CLC allows residents to maintain as much independence as possible based on their abilities and physical limitations. Thomas is provided a safe, homelike, environment that helps him thrive with social activities and structured daily routines. Coming and going freely the CLC has systems in place if he runs late. Finally catching up with Thomas today he had just returned from ‘liberty’ and was preparing to exercise by lifting weights and riding the bicycle.
Being a Pearl Harbor survivor, he carries some burdens but that tense period in his Navy career has not dampened his spirit in the long run. After all, at age 91, in comparison to other party goers whose ages ranged from 22 to 90, Roland Thomas still has the energy to remain the last man standing.