Nonagenarian Nathaniel Thomas grew up in small-town Eufaula, Oklahoma with his family, who were Chickasaws. His father tragically died when he was a year old, and Thomas was raised in a matriarchal household by his mother and grandmother.
"I had a good childhood," he said in a recent Chickasaw Times web exclusive. "We weren't rich, but we never went hungry. I did my hunting and fishing on top of the mountain near home and learned to swim in creeks and ponds."
The teenage Thomas was sitting in a movie theater on December 8, 1941 when the United States entered World War II. He says he didn't know what to think, but the call to join the military soon flooded his consciousness. Thomas was too young at the outset, but the second he turned 17 years old in 1944, he talked his mother into signing papers to allow him to serve in the U.S. Navy.
After finishing basic training in San Diego, Thomas was stationed in the South Pacific on Manus Island, New Guinea. He was later transferred to a support ship in Samar, Philippines, which provided maintenance and repair to warships.
He was 18 when the war ended. That night, his ship sent all its flares into the sky to celebrate the victory. "It was beautiful," he said. "I can't explain it." It was three o'clock in the morning by the time his ship reached San Francisco. The sailors began to see a glow over the horizon—it was the lights of home.
Now that he looks back, he says, he recognizes God throughout his journey. After the war, Thomas got married, became a minister and had four children. Following in his father's footsteps, his son Sam joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served with distinction in the Vietnam War.
Thomas now lives in Blanchard, Oklahoma and proudly serves as a veterans chaplain. He’s involved with the Chickasaw Warrior Society and has twice attended the annual Chickasaw Elder Veterans Trip to Washington, D.C.
"I'm going on 92 years old and I feel good," he said. "I had a good life."