CLEMSON, SC — Capt. Reuben "Sweet Pea" Thomas Jr. began service in World War II the same day Japanese troops bombed Pearl Harbor.
From 1941 to the summer of 1943, Thomas was in the thick of the Allied battle against German U-boats. A pilot of a B-24 bomber for the Army Air Forces' 4th Antisubmarine Squadron, Thomas flew more than 800 combat hours over the course of 125 missions while assigned to antisubmarine patrol on the European coast, earning him a Distinguished Flying Cross.
The citation for that award said Thomas' courage and skill was "an inspiration to his fellow flyers." But Thomas, a native of Spartanburg, wouldn't make it back to the Upstate. He was killed after his plane was shot down by enemy fighters over the Bay of Biscay on Aug. 8, 1943.
Another Upstate veteran, 1st Lt. Roy Donald Bratton of Adamsburg in Union County, would distinguish himself in air combat more than 25 years later over the skies of southeast Asia.
Bratton, an Air Force F-4 fighter pilot with the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 366th Tactical Fighter Wing, died on Aug. 4, 1969 when his F-4 fighter jet was downed by enemy fire in South Vietnam.
He, too, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation said Bratton repeatedly disregarded his own safety to protect troops on the ground.
Just months before his death, according to the award citation, Bratton's air prowess allowed for the rescue of a reconnaissance team that had been stuck behind enemy lines and later destroyed an enemy supply line despite poor weather and a strong defense from enemy forces.
Thomas and Bratton are among the names listed on Clemson University's Scroll of Honor Memorial Plaza. That memorial, which includes the names of 482 veterans with Clemson ties who served in nine wars and campaigns, will have its final phase a walkway that will connect the Scroll of Honor and Clemson's Memorial Stadium dedicated this afternoon.
The public ceremony, scheduled for 3 p.m., will include members of the Clemson Corps, military veterans, Clemson ROTC cadets and school officials, according to a release.
Danny Rhodes, co-chairman of the committee that has overseen the memorial, said the Scroll of Honor serves as an extension of the stadium, which was built in 1942 and named in honor of Clemson alumni who were killed during military service.
"The crosswalk provides the final link, a physical connection, between Memorial Stadium and the Scroll of Honor Memorial," Rhodes said in a release.
Thomas, who graduated Clemson in 1940, and Bratton, a member of the class of 1966, are among the 33 local veterans ?24 from Spartanburg County and nine from Union County who are honored within the memorial, which was made possible by donations from several graduating classes, the Clemson Corps, IPTAY, the student body and the Clemson Alumni Association.
The Scroll of Honor was first dedicated in 2010, following eight years of planning and preparation. The memorial, officials have said, was important in that it individually notes the sacrifices of alumni at a school that is rich in military history. From its creation in 1889 to 1955, the school was an all-male military college.
The memorial itself is a plaza that includes two tiger statues, benches and a mound covered in stones engraved with the names of the fallen veterans.
The walkway, which will be dedicated days before Clemson opens its football season at home, connects the memorial to the stadium's east gate.