Honoring Ray Toms
A couple of months ago, I was surprised to receive snail mail that included a Summer 2007 issue of Corps Review, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Alumni Magazine. Attached to the magazine was a note from Life Member Chuck Raynor who had evidently obtained the periodical during a Rotary Club meeting at which the speaker was a two-star general in charge of the Virginia Tech Corps. Imagine Chuck’s delight when he discovered that two pages of the magazine were devoted to Ray Toms, another Life Member whose family is still very active in our club. On the heels of the excellent PBS series The War and the country’s reawakening gratitude to the greatest generation which steered us through the dark days of World War II, it is perhaps fitting to reprint this article in its entirety to honor Ray, one of our long time members and accomplished sailors who served with distinction in the Pacific theater during the war and later in the Korean conflict.
Another Marine in the Pacific
In the Fall 2006 issue of the Corp Review, the featured aviator was a Marine Corsair pilot who flew in the Pacific theater during World War II. We return to the same theater to highlight another Marine, Ray Toms, a member of the Class of 1945 who became a navigator in the B-25 Mitchell bomber, known to the Navy and Marines as the PBJ-1. Toms is the third member of the Class of 1945 in the Virginia Corps of Cadets Alumni Aviation Gallery.
Toms was born in Montgomery, Ala., on May 30, 1924. When he was five years old, his family moved to Chevy Chase, Md., where he lived until he enrolled at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in September 1941. He spent the next two years as a member of the C Company in the Corps of Cadets before joining the Marine Corps in June 1943.
Toms was fortunate enough to be selected to attend the navigator-bombardment school at Quantico, Va. In December, he graduated from the course second in his class and was promoted to sergeant. He then joined Marine Bombing Squadron (VMB) 443 at Peter Field, New River, N.C., for training in the PBJ-1. In mid-February 1944, the squadron traveled by train from North Carolina to El Centro, Calif., for intensive training consisting of gunnery, navigation flights, and bombing school from which Toms graduated on May 5.
In mid-May, VMB-443 set sail for the South Pacific. On Aug. 17, the squadron mated up with its aircraft on Emirau Island in the Bismarck Archipelago. During the next year, Toms flew 45 combat missions in the PBJ-1 against targets at Rabaul and Kavieng, two major bypassed Japanese bases, dropping everything from 100-pound cluster bombs to 2,000-pound block-busters. He was rotating back to the states and was aboard ship heading for San Francisco when he received news of the Japanese surrender.
Toms was discharged from the Marine Corps in November 1945 and returned to VPI in January 1946. That June, he married Patty Lane, whom he had known his entire life. He graduated in March 1947 with a degree in civil engineering and went to work for the Carbide and Chemical Corp. in South Charleston, W.Va.
While there, Toms joined a local reserve unit and was recalled to active duty in June 1950 for the Korean War. He spent more than a year navigating aircraft between the West Coast and Tokyo; Toms says it was great to get in some real long-distance navigation.
Returning to civilian life in September 1951, Toms took a job with the Wallace and Tierman Co. in Roanoke, Va., selling and servicing chemical feeders for water and sewage plants. In 1954, he moved to Richmond, Va. to work for Shultz and Jones Inc., where he spent the next 24 years rising from a manufacturer’s representative to vice president. In 1978, he went to work for the U.S. Army at Fort Lee, Va., where his job was to design and build Army commissaries.
Toms retired in 1998 at the age of 64 and now lives with his wife in Deltaville, Va. They raised three daughters and two sons and have had a fulfilling life together. Tom’s hobby is sailing and for many years he raced a 26-foot Ranger.
Our hats are off to Ray Toms for his service in World War II and the Korean War and for his success in the civilian world. He is truly a member of “The Greatest Generation.”
Appreciation to Colonel Rock Roszak, USAF (Retired), Alumni Director, Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, who kindly granted us permission to reprint this story and provided us with the image contained herein. And, by the way, the group photograph of the Mitchell crew on Emirau Island shows Sgt. Ray Toms standing second from right.
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