Vietnam Veteran and Commander of the 354th at Myrtle Beach
by Melissa LaScaleia
Thomas Merritt Knoles III was born in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1927. He attended Flagstaff High School, followed by the University of Arizona. On March 1946, he enlisted in the United States Air Force.
He received his commission as a second lieutenant and his pilot wings through the aviation cadet program in June 1948. In 1950, he graduated from Air Tactical School; in 1967, he graduated from the Air War College.
As a pilot, Thomas was stationed at Turner Air Force Base in Georgia. His first assignment was with the 31st Fighter Group where he flew P-51 and F-84 aircraft. After two years, Thomas was assigned to the 36th Fighter Group in Fuerstenfeldbruck, Germany. Here, from July 1950 through May 1953, he was a flight commander and flew P-80 and F-84 aircraft.
During the Korean War, Thomas was stationed with the 474th Tactical Fighter Group on temporary duty. He flew twenty combat missions during this time.
Thomas also acted as operations officer with the 506th Strategic Fighter Wing at Dow Air Force Base in Maine. When the wing transferred to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma in 1955, Thomas went with them.
During this time, he flew the F-100 Supersabre and three models of the F-84 Thunderjets. In February 1959, he went to Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi where he taught as an instructor in the Air Ground Operations School.
In June 1961, he was sent to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. He served there for two years as director of contingency plans at Headquarters Thirteenth Air Force; after that, he acted as operations officer for the 510th Tactical Fighter Squadron. In May 1964, he was transferred to Headquarters Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii. He served as assistant chief for the General War Area, Plans and Policy Section.
In August 1966 he attended Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
During the Vietnam conflict, he went to Vietnam where he commanded the 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Phan Rang Air Base. This was in September 1967. He flew 258 combat missions in the F-100 during this war.
In October 1968, Thomas returned to the United States. His next assignment was as deputy chief of the cost division as the directorate of budget for the United States Air Force Headquarters.
In June 1971, he became commander of the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The following year, he led the wing when it deployed to Thailand for the final stages of U.S. involvement in Vietnam conflict. He was involved in Operation Linebacker which occurred in December 1972.
In May 1973, he became the assistant deputy chief of staff for operations for control and support, and was sent to Langley Air Force Base, in Virginia. He was afterwards assigned to the United States Readiness Command at MacDill Air Force Base, in Florida, in September 1974, where he acted as the deputy director of operations.
On August 1, 1973, Thomas was promoted to brigadier general. His military decorations and awards include the Silver Star; Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters; Distinguished Flying Cross; Bronze Star Medal; Air Medal with 15 oak leaf clusters; Joint Service Commendation Medal; Air Force Commendation Medal; and the Army Commendation Medal.
He retired on August 1, 1976, and passed away on October 22, 1998.
You can find his historical marker in the Market Common near 3428 Knowles Street.