OROVILLE – A worn clipping from the Oroville Weekly Gazette from the mid-forties has started Thomas Wilburn, son of Verna Thornton Wilburn, on a quest to get the five star service flag promised to his family during World War II.
The flag was to be given to the late Mr. and Mrs. Earl Thornton for their five children, all serving the country during wartime. Their children, Cpl. Oscar Thornton and Cpl. Ernie Thornton, were both in France at the time; Pvt. Preston Thornton was with the Merchant Marine in the Pacific, nurse Laura Thornton was in training at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland and Verna Thornton was a Wave with the U.S. hospital staff in Jacksonville, Florida, according to the article which was sent to the Thornton’s hometown newspaper.
“The copy of my article has suffered from being copied over the years and so I have no idea of the date or the original heading any longer. It says pictured and yet I have no photographs and there is one mistake as well, Preston was in the U.S. Marines, not the Merchant Marines and was killed in action on Iwo Jima just weeks before the end of the war,” said Wilburn.
Wilburn said the article was sent to his mother in Jacksonville where she cared for burned Air Force pilots that were returned from Europe.
“The technology of the time was incapable of allowing these young men to survive their burns which normally amounted to large portions of their upper bodies burned to second and third degree,” said Wilburn. “They would however live for months so they would ship them from Europe to Virginia and Florida.”
His mother told him the men would be severely burnt and in a lot of pain… resigned to their fates and waiting for infection to set in and take them.
“She said they were just like her, her age, and they would talk about their dreams and their girls and their lives and wait for death. She said they were so overwhelmed and the men so lonely she and the others could never bring themselves to go home at night until they were dead from exhaustion because the patients never slept and were always lonely and always dying.
“This haunted my mother until her dying day, the thousands of aces she cared for and watched die so sorrowfully, it wounded her deeply.”
Wilburn’s mother and father both served in the military and he grew up on military bases and several of his siblings went on to serve in the military. Now their children, his nephews and nieces, are following suit.
“We are a military family. I spent the best part of my career building military facilities as a contractor,” he said.
From what his mother told him, her parents never received the flag promised in the article sent to the Gazette by the military. He has been in touch with local legislators and hopes that the United States will make up for this oversight and deliver on a promise made to the Thornton family, several of whom still live in Oroville, more than 60 years ago.
Wilburn said he believes the article is from 1945 and the Gazette-Tribune will be conducting a search of its archive to see if we can find the article and will reproduce the photo in a future issue if we find it. The G-T welcomes anyone who might have further information or could help Wilburn it his attempt to get a five-star flag for his family.