John J. Thomas hoped one day “to be an all-round coach.” He might have emulated Alton E. Ramey, who coached the varsity basketball squad at Provincetown High School. “The team owes its success to Mr. Ramey,” John wrote in the Long Pointer of 1936-1937, “who has shown how much he appreciated the team’s obtaining the three things he wanted this season: first, the winning of the Cape Championship; second, the defeat of Barnstable [39-to-15] on their own floor; and third, the winning of the Brockton Tournament.” John belonged to that team, and also played fullback during football season.

He lived with parents, Joseph Thomas and Grace M. (Simmons) Thomas, at 2 Carver Street. His classmates included Manuel “Cul” Gouveia, of 89 Bradford Street, and John C. Snow, of 143 Commercial Street. John Thomas was known as the “Class Pest.” He was the Newspaper Photographer in the senior play, Tomboy, by Boyce Loving. He liked writing stories.

The 1936-1937 varsity basketball team. John Thomas is immediately to the left of the coach, at the head of the line-up. From the Long Pointer of 1936-1937, available in the School Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5821.

After graduation, John worked for a time at Anthony Lopes’s grocery store, 188 Commercial Street, before heading out fishing with his father on the gasoline dory Beauty of Provincetown. He was drafted into the Army on 10 April 1942.

John made corporal. He came home in April 1943, on furlough, to visit his parents — one last time, as it turned out. Then he returned to Fort Monroe, Virginia, an Army base charged with defending the Chesapeake Bay. At the time, coastal defenses included underwater fields of bouyant mines. They were tethered to half-ton anchors and could be fired electrically from shore when an enemy submarine or surface vessel approached.

Left: U.S.A.M.P. Gen. John M. Schofield, a mine-layer stationed at Fort Monroe. From NavSource Online: Army Ship Photo Archive. Right: Thomas as a senior.

The 27-year-old corporal was assigned to a mine-laying vessel, perhaps the U.S.A.M.P. Gen. John M. Schofield. On Wednesday, 4 August, he had the chance to telephone his mother. He was killed the next day in an accident aboard the mine-layer, somewhere along the Atlantic coast. The message from the War Department arrived at 2 Carver Street on Friday. A high requiem Mass was held 11 days later at the Church of St. Peter the Apostle.

Corp. Thomas was the first Provincetown service member to die in World War II. He was memorialized in 1950 at the corner of Commercial and Winthrop Streets.

We never got to find out what kind of coach — or writer — he could have been.

Years later, on the fifth of August — the precise anniversary of the corporal’s death — John Thomas, his nephew and namesake, was born.

Photo, 2012, by David W. Dunlap.

¶ Last updated on 16 October 2020.

In memoriam:

Louis Ferreira Square (World War I).

Frank Fratus Square (World War I).

Matthew A. Gregory Square (World War I).

Everett McQuillan Square (World War I).

Manuel V. Motta Athletic Field (Korean War).

Joseph L. Reis Square (World War II).

Jesse Arnold Silva Square (World War II).

Warren Witherstine Square (Cold War).

Thumbnail image: John J. Thomas from the Long Pointer of 1936-1937, available in the School Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5821.

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