Today, I'd like to tell you about a book on the library shelves that is of local interest. It's the story of Tom and Thelma O'Connor; well, a part of their story.
By Connie Sutton
Mineral County Library
Today, I’d like to tell you about a book on the library shelves that is of local interest. It’s the story of Tom and Thelma O’Connor; well, a part of their story.
Tom & Thelma O’Connor Memories.
Almost 20 years ago, I told a neighbor I was going to work for the library. “Well that’s nice,” he said, “you’ll meet a lot of people.” Two of the nicest people I met, right off, were Tom and Thelma O’Connor, both retired. Thelma had worked for years at the Mary F. Shipper Library at Potomac State College, so, of course, I liked her right away. And who wouldn’t like Tom, a self-described “happy-go-lucky Irishman” with charm to spare.
One day, Tom asked me if the library had any books about World War II, specifically the war in the Pacific and an island called Saipan, where he had served as a member of the 1341st Combat Engineers. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading “Fly Boys” by James Bradley, which included a description of the battle for Saipan. Tom talked a bit about his experience, and I thought to myself, his stories needed to be written down and shared.
Some years passed, and that idea finally came to fruition. I went to visit with Tom and Thelma, accompanied by Kendra Keplinger and a tape recorder. We listened to stories, asked questions, and Thelma brought out old photographs. Kendra transcribed and put together a chronology; and Deidre Robertson did research and pulled all the information together. The result is a book on the library shelves: “Tom & Thelma O’Connor Memories.”
It’s the story of a young man from Keyser who insisted on joining the U.S. Army after being rejected because of a heart murmur. Tom served on the islands of Saipan and Tinian, islands vital to the American air battle in the Pacific. His story includes finding his true love, Thelma, in Wichita, Kansas, finding fellows from Keyser in Honolulu, and taking part in the battle for the island of Saipan, where over 3,000 American troops lost their lives. When one thinks of World War II, it is often the battle in Europe that comes to mind first; D-Day, the fields of Normandy, the liberation of Paris, Ed Kelley, Medal of Honor recipient, also from Keyser and a classmate of Tom’s.
Here’s a story of the war in the Pacific, told by a young man from Keyser who came home with his bride, Thelma, and made a life in the community of Keyser. In his mid-‘90s, Tom still has an Irishman’s charm.
Thelma passed away on Nov. 15 2017, a month before their 72nd wedding anniversary.