Resident Spotlight: Caroline Thomas


Caroline Thomas

Remember the first time you rode an airplane or the adrenaline rush you felt when you first flew in a plane powered by a jet engine? Caroline Coleman Thomas, one of our many veterans living at Kirby Pines, was a member of the prestigious 101st Airborne Division of the US Army. Her experience as a paratrooper included not only many flights, but 325 jumps with a parachute. Later on, she would rappel from a helicopter 270 times WITHOUT a parachute. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

Caroline Thomas is an outstanding representative of the many veterans living at Kirby Pines. To all of them, we offer our thanks for their courageous and often dangerous efforts which allow us to have the freedom we enjoy today. Here is Caroline’s story:

Caroline Coleman was born into a military family. Both her father and mother served during World War II. Her mother was a member of the Women’s Air Corp and was assigned to the Japanese Intelligence Office in the Pentagon. Caroline began her life in December of 1952 in Laramie, Wyoming. Her family moved often during her early life, but Caroline, at age 11, along with her parents, brother and sister, found a permanent home in Little Rock, Arkansas where her father was the State Veterinarian for Arkansas.

While in high school, Caroline met her future husband, Van Thomas. Van graduated from The Citadel with a BS in Business Administration. Caroline graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a BS in Foods and Nutrition. She later received a Masters in Business Administration from Emory Riddle Aeronautical University. After their marriage, they joined the US Army together.

After completing basic training, Caroline was sent to Aberdeen Proving Grounds to train as an automotive mechanic. Van was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia to train as an infantry soldier. Caroline would later join Van at Fort Benning where they both trained as paratroopers. Caroline won her Airborne Wings and began her 325 parachute jumps.

After completing this training, Caroline and Van were stationed with the 101st Airborne Division/Air Assault at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where they both received training as Air Assault Troopers. As you may remember, the 101st Airborne Division became famous for their efforts in defeating the Germans in “The Battle of the Bulge” in World War II. The series Band of Brothers depicts their bravery.

Caroline Rappelling in 1983
Caroline Rappelling in 1983

Caroline won her Air Assault Wings and began rappelling out of helicopters. Caroline jokes that the only difference between jumping out of an airplane and jumping out of a helicopter is with one you have a parachute, the other you don’t! As Caroline explained, the reason for the rappelling from a helicopter is that you can fly low and then rappel through the trees, as in the jungle. A parachute would get tangled in the trees.

In June 1984 Caroline and Van were assigned to Camp Casey in Korea. They became members of the 2nd Infantry Division which was deployed to guard the DMZ between North and South Korea. Because it was considered a combat zone, they remained there for only one year.

Upon returning from Korea, Caroline was again assigned to the 101st Airborne/Air Assault Division. In the summer of 1985, Caroline and Van were assigned to the Sinai Desert as part of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force and Observers. After six months in the Sinai Desert, Van was flying home for Christmas when the plane crashed in Gander, Newfoundland, killing everyone on board. The loss of 248 soldiers from the 101st Division was approximately one-third of their total number. Such a devastating blow to the families of America.

Caroline (center) in Korea in 1985
Caroline (center) in Korea in 1985

Caroline received many medals and meritorious badges from the US Army for her service. They include one for Meritorious Service, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Sharp Shooter Medal, and as previously mentioned, her Parachute and Air Assault Wings. She served eight years in the military and retired in 1989 to private life. Following discharge, Caroline worked in several warehouses driving a forklift. She later became a minister’s assistant at Christ United Methodist Church. She was also the caregiver for her mother, who was completely blind, for 10 years.

Caroline moved from her home in Collierville to a garden home at Kirby Pines in October of 2015. Her humor and pleasant personality are her trademark. She loves her cats, Max, Ava and Ginger. She also loves spending time at her computer. She plans to resume her former hobby of knitting and has hopes of learning to crochet. She is a member of Bellevue Baptist Church, which she attends regularly.

Caroline Thomas has a special place in the family at Kirby Pines. The sacrifices she made for our country cannot be fully appreciated but let us remember to thank Caroline and all of our veterans. Caroline, for your courageous and exemplary life in the military, We Salute You!

Written by Joan Dodson, Kirby Pines Resident