The Story of Leonard Jay Thom.

(Executive Officer PT 109)

The name Leonard Thom may not mean anything to a great many people today and that is unfortunate. But there are some who still remember. They recall the big blond haired man who had such a zest for life. They will never forget the gentle giant who in the short time he graced the world with his presence, touched the lives of so many. To the historian, Leonard Thom was the Executive Officer aboard PT 109, the boat that launched the legend of John Kennedy. He was a key player in the drama that followed that boat’s sinking. Like so many others who came into JFK’s orbit, Lenny Thom has become but a footnote in the history books. He deserves so much more. Even if Lenny Thom had never met Jack Kennedy, his would still be a life worth remembering. He was a true American hero, friend, husband, brother, and father, whose life ended far too soon.

Leonard Thom was born on September 8, 1917 in Sandusky. Ohio. His parents, Walter and May, had eight children in all. Lenny was the oldest. In high school Lenny played football and lettered in a sport that showcased his natural talents and ever growing size. In 1935, the Sandusky High football team was undefeated. Local newspapers featured Lenny quite a bit as he continued to collect accolades and honors. Lenny was subsequently named to a number of all state lists including the All Buckeye High School League Coaches list in 1935.

After high school he attended Heidelburg College in Tiffin, Ohio. His experiences there lasted only one year. The duration of his college years were spent at Ohio State. There he played football and was an All Star tackle and guard. Equally impressive were his academic achievements. He majored in Physical Education and was Phi Beta Kappa.  Football however, remained his calling.  For a brief stint, Thom played semi-pro ball for the Columbus Bulls. The Chicago Bears were interested in Lenny’s talent at one point, offering him $1,000 to sign and $500 a game. Lenny had other things on his mind and passed up this chance.

 




While at Ohio State, Lenny met a young woman on a blind date to whom he lost his heart. Catherine Holway, or Kate, as she was and is known to her friends, hailed from Youngstown and was attending St. Mary’s of the Springs, an all girls college in Columbus. She remembers this big striking blond man walking into the room of the house where a post football game party was being held. They soon began seeing a lot of each other, and when Lenny went off to serve his country, Kate wore his Phi Beta Kappa pin.

As the war clouds darkened, Lenny Thom, like many other patriotic young men, volunteered to serve his country. He went through the V-7 program at Notre Dame and met a fellow trainee named Joe Atkinson. Since men like Thom and Atkinson did not have the benefit of a Naval academy education, they went through an accelerated course for the requirements needed to be officers in the naval reserve. Both Joe and Lenny were put in charge of the daily calestenic program, as they both were athletes and big guys. Atkinson remembers Lenny as a jolly fellow and said in a recent interview that he loved him (Lenny) like a brother. Lenny ended up at the PT Boat training school in Melville, Rhode Island. It was at Melville that he met a sickly looking young naval Lieutenant from Boston named Jack Kennedy. The two men became fast friends and their lives would be intertwined for the next three years. In March of 1943 Ensign Leonard J. Thom, U.S.N.R., was sent to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. Thom drew an assignment as Executive Officer (XO) of PT 109, serving under Lt. Bryant Larson. After Larson moved on after a month, Thorn was pleased to learn that it’s new skipper was his old friend, Jack Kennedy. The relationship and trust that these two men had with one another would serve them well over the next few months.

Lenny Thom was not a man people forgot. He made quite an impression. In the book The Search for JFK by Clay and Joan Blair, Charles “Bucky” Harris, an enlisted man aboard the 109 said of Thom, “He could rule anybody. You would just look at him an do what he told you. He was an awfully nice man.” Many of his fellow officers still recall with great fondness, the big man who looked like a figure out of Nordic mythology, especially with the blond goatee that he grew. Dick Keresey, Skipper of PT 105, said that he knew Lenny and liked him a great deal. Al Cluster, who was in charge of the PT boat squadron that Lenny was assigned to, recently reminisced about the man whose death he called a great loss.