On 1 July 1945, after 28 years of naval service, longtime U.S. Naval Academy Chaplain William N. Thomas was promoted to Navy Chief of Chaplains, and the LOG magazine lamented, “the Navy’s gain is the Academy’s loss.” Chaplain Thomas had been a venerated and beloved presence on the Yard: “Besides delivering the weekly sermon, he has sanctified more than 500 marriages a year, and has guided scores of charities and societies in Annapolis. His warming personality, his interest in the other fellow, and his ineffaceable smile have endeared him to all of us.”
Thomas’ move to D.C. came with a concomitant promotion—an unprecedented one, to rear admiral. He was the first Navy chaplain to permanently attain that rank. To celebrate his success and bid him a fond farewell, the academic board of the Naval Academy presented Chaplain Thomas with a Cartier sterling-silver cigar box on 19 July 1945. The high-end humidor was personalized with the signatures of his fellow officers, so he’d remember them and the good old Academy days any time he opted for a stogie. The chaplain’s silver cigar box is now in the collection of his grandson, Dr. Richard K. Templeton.
Admiral Thomas retired in 1949 and died in 1971, a passing eulogized in The New York Times. His memory lives on at the Naval Academy, which he described as “the greatest school in the world, and the Midshipmen the finest group of young men in the world.” His stirring words grace the plaque in Memorial Hall “dedicated to the honor of those alumni who have been killed in action defending the ideals of their country.” When today’s Mids parade past the Academy Chapel, they are treading on Thomas Walk. And whenever any of them have occasion to recite the Midshipman’s Prayer, they are invoking lines written by the charismatic Thomas: “Protect those in whose love I live. Give me the will to do my best and to accept my share of responsibilities with a strong heart and a cheerful mind. . . . Let my uniform remind me daily of the traditions of the service of which I am a part.”
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