Ralph Ewalt Thomas was born in Massillon, Ohio on July 24, 1917.
The attack on Pearl Harbor took place on December 7, 1941, and in February 1942 he was drafted and was assigned to Missouri’s Camp Crowder.
Since he was already a civilian photographer, he presumed that his civilian experience would immediately qualify him for work in that area. When he was assigned to a transportation battalion, Ralph was very disheartened.
He was then sent to Tyler, Texas for another 13 weeks of Morse code training and after graduation, Ralph was shipped to North Carolina, where he was attached to an armoured signal battalion on maneuvers. One warm day he was ordered to report to his company commander. .
Ralph entered his tent and saluted. The company commander said he had received some papers “through channels” asking for a transfer for Private Thomas to a signal photo company.
“Do you want to go?” he asked. Ralph went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he joined the 163rd Signal Photo Company.
After training he was shipped out to Africa and then to Italy, where they were part of the newly formed Fifth Army commanded by Lieutenant General Mark Clark.
His first assignment was being his personal photographer.
After several months as General Clark’s photographer, he was briefed that something big was in the air and had to be available within 15 minutes’ notice, gear ready to go! On January 22, 1944, he was alerted and a convoy of vehicles, under full blackout, moved toward the Mediterranean, where finally they landed in Anzio.
About four hours after they landed, General Clark came back from his staff meetings, and the DUKWs took them back to the PT boats. About 10:30 p.m., he was back at the headquarters of the Army Pictorial Service in Caserta. Ralph carried 18 4X5 film packs, the only pictures from the beachhead— a real “coup” for the Signal Corp since civilian photographers usually had preference in transportation.
As an excellent photographer he had the distinct honor of photographing many dignitaries, such as Winston Churchill, General George Patton, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Charles De Gaulle, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
After 13 months and 4,000 negatives, his second request for transfer was granted, and he joined a three-man combat photo team.
He worked at the Timken Roller Bearing Company, Waltz Studios, and retired from General Tire Company.
Ralph passed away on July 8, 2008.