Wednesday, April 25, 2012

COL Thomas Spencer Dallas Sr.

Thomas as a Lieutenant in 1939
COL Thomas Spencer Dallas Sr. was born 12 Dec 1913 in Rockingham County, North Carolina, probably Leaksville. He was the 2nd of 5 children born to Philip Kyle and Della Ruth (Spencer) Dallas. His father worked as a clerk. The family moved to Martinsville, Virginia before 1930 where Philip worked as an insurance agent and later operated a grocery store. By 1940 he was working as a supply clerk in an auto shop.

Thomas enlisted in the local National Guard unit, H Company 116th Infantry, in 1932. He rose in rank to SGT by 1937 and then attended officer training and was commissioned as a 2LT on 10 Feb 1937. Thomas was again promoted, to 1LT, on 2 Mar 1939. He was with the unit when it was federalized on 1 Feb 1941 and the unit was still at Fort Meade, Maryland when he was promoted to CPT on 25 Aug 1941 when he was made 1st Battalion's S-1/Adjutant.

It was just a month later that Thomas married Fannie Mildred Graham of Martinsville. The couple likely didn't have much time together as the 116th was sent to Camp Blanding for further training before departing for England aboard the Queen Mary in September 1942.  His first son would be born 12 Nov 1942. While in England, the 116th trained for the amphibious assault that would be a major element of the invasion of occupied northern France. The now MAJ Dallas came ashore in the 1st wave as Battalion Executive Officer at Omaha Beach, surviving the landing and helping to lead his battalion inland. For these efforts he would receive the Silver Star. On 29 Jun 1944 MAJ Dallas assumed command of 1st Battalion 116th Infantry. Thomas was wounded on 5 Aug 1944 and evacuated to hospital. He was not returned to the unit, coming by way of the replacement depot, on 7 Sep 1944.  Only 7 days later he would lead the battalion in an action for which he is much remembered, the capture of Fort Montbarey.

MAJ Dallas at Montbarey
Although he had what was described as a round "cherubic" face, MAJ Dallas had a reputation for a fierce temperament and was thought to be a solid combat leader. MAJ Dallas was supported by B Squadron, 141st Regiment, Royal Armored Corps; a platoon of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion (with 4 M-10s); part of B Company, 121st Combat Engineer Battalion; B Company 86th Chemical Mortar Battalion; and some 105mm cannon from Cannon Company 116th Infantry. A detailed story would be too long for this account but Dallas had the combat engineers clear several paths through the minefield surrounding the fort which task had to be accomplished in the dark. C Company would conduct an all-day fight to take control of the outer defenses on the west side of the fort. The 141st's Crocodile tanks (flamethrowers) went up against the fort by firing on the embrasures and they were supported by conventional tanks. The Crocodiles made it through and as B Company moved forward they were able to capture almost 80 of the enemy. The Americans needed to enter the fort and brought up the Crocodiles, tanks and even a 105mm cannon to fire on the gate. White phosphorus rounds fired through the gate into the courtyard apparently made a wreck of that part of the fort but there was still no entry to the courtyard. There was another passage and again, tank and cannon fire was used to open an access hole. The 121st Engineers managed to move nearly 1-ton of TNT into the hole and under a critical point of the north wall. It was now the 16 Sep 1944. After the recovery of the body of 2LT Durwood Settles (who MAJ Dallas knew from H Company pre-war, the charge was set-off at about 1700 hours. The explosion had the effect of collapsing the north wall so much that ladders weren't necessary for the soldiers who rushed in to capture the stunned German soldiers.

Dallas would receive a promotion to LTC on 12 Oct 1944. LTC Dallas sprained his leg on 27 Nov 1944 but remained on duty. On 3 Dec 1944 he was sent to hospital for "an old wound" but it is unclear what that wound was. LTC Dallas returned to his duties as Battalion Commander on 22 Dec 1944. He left for temporary duty in Britain on 24 Jan 1945 and returned to the unit on 1 Feb 1945. LTC Dallas left for another 3-days temporary duty in Britain on 25 Mar 1945 and was back with the unit on the 30th.

After demobilization, LTC Dallas helped to reactivate the National Guard. He returned to active duty in June 1951. He would take his family with him for a tour of duty in Japan in 1955. By 1962 COL Dallas was senior Army advisor to the Alaska National Guard. On 25 Apr 1962 the helicopter in which he was riding crashed and he and 7 other passengers and crew were killed.

COL Dallas was buried with his wife in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Great-grandfather Joshua Thomas Spencer served in E Company 1st Virginia Infantry (CSA). Great-grandfather William Hagood served as a PVT in G Company 21st Virginia Cavalry and K Company 6th Virginia Infantry (CSA). 

Note: this memorial was published on the 50th anniversary of COL Dallas passing due to the limitations imposed by Blogger.

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