Books and E-Books
By David G. Thomas
The first projected moving pictures were shown in Las Cruces 110 years ago. Who exhibited those movies? What movies were shown? Since projected moving pictures were invented in 1896, why did it take ten years for the first movie exhibition to reach Las Cruces? Who opened the first theater in town? Where was it located? These questions began the history of moving pictures in Las Cruces, and they are answered in this book. But so are the events and stories that follow.
First movie shown in Las Cruces
First theater in Las Cruces
First talkie shown in Las Cruces
Invention of drive-in theater in Las Cruces
Opening of Rio Grande Theater
Impact of Great Depression on business
Raffle of six-week-old baby girl at Mission Theater
World premiere of first BILLY THE KID movie
Second world premiere of a BILLY THE KID movie
Arrival of Organ, Rocket, Fiesta, and Aggie Drive-Ins
Shooting of Clint Eastwood’s HANG ‘EM HIGH
There have been 21 movie theaters in Las Cruces – all but three or four are forgotten. They are unremembered no longer. And one, especially, the Airdome Theater which opened in 1914, deserves to be known by all movie historians – it was an automobile drive-in theater, the invention of the concept, two decades before movie history declares the drive-in was invented.
To supplement this history are 102 photos and illustrations. These include ephemeral documents such as the 4-page flyer for Las Cruces’ third movie exhibition, at the Rink Theater; historic photos of theaters; aerial photos of drive-ins; and never-before-published photos of the shooting of HANG ‘EM HIGH.
Cover: Depicts the 1930 world premiere of BILLY THE KID, starring John Mack Brown as Billy, at the Rio Grande Theater in Las Cruces.
Paperback, 194 pages.
Ebook, all text and photos.
By David G. Thomas
This book is about a remarkable man, Giovanni Maria de Agostini, born in Italy in 1801, who combined two seemingly contradictory aspirations: a fervent desire to devote his whole life to “perfect solitude” and an astonishing urge to travel incessantly.
Following extensive travel in Europe, Agostini takes vows revocable only by formal dispensation from the Pope. He immediately leaves forever his “beloved Italy” for South America. Twenty-one years he spends traversing that, at the time, greatly unexplored continent, visiting Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile — and so doing multiple times. During this spectacular solo Odyssey, he survives a trip down the Amazon River by canoe, crosses the Alps by foot several times, walks vast distances, and endures living alone in scalding deserts and subzero mountains. In spite of oppressive and infuriating obstacles, including death threats, unjust arrest, deportation, jail, and forced confinement in a mental asylum, Agostini persists undeterred in the solemn goal he set for himself when he left Europe.
Seeking change and another continent, Agostini leaves South America for Mexico, passing through Panama and Guatemala, and then Mexico for North America, passing through Cuba. In Cuba, he is hailed as an extraordinary adventurer, his photograph is taken, and he is proclaimed “The Wonder of Our Century.”
After arrival in New York, he walks to Canada, where he spends almost a year, then “goes west,” eventually reaching, in the midst of the American Civil War, the Territory of New Mexico, where he meets his merciless fate.
Agostini is remembered in many places — in South America as Monge João Maria, in North America as Ermitaño Don Juan Agostini; however his life story is encrusted with myth and false fact. As the veritable events of his life are unveiled, a man of fascinating originality, prodigious endurance, intelligence, self-discipline, and self-sufficiency, infused with an indomitable spirit of adventure, emerges.
Today in Argentina, as many as 15,000 people participate in a yearly festival initiated by Agostini at Cerro Monje, “Monk’s Hill.” In Brazil, at Cerro Campestre, “Campestre Hill,” and Santo Cerro do Botucaraí, “Holy Hill of Botucaraí,” over 10,000 people celebrate annual events founded by Agostini. In Lapa, Brazil, a national park protects the pilgrimage route to Gruta do Monge, “Monk’s Grotto.” At Araçoiaba Hill, near Sorocaba, Brazil, the Trilha da Pedra Santa, “Trail of the Holy Rock,” is climbed annually by thousands of people desiring to pay respect to the memory of the Monge do Ipanema, the “Monk of Ipanema.”
These are just a few examples of Agostini’s cultural legacy, 145 years after his death.
“David G. Thomas has finally pulled back the veil of obscurity that long shrouded one of the most enduring mysteries in New Mexico’s long history to reveal the true story of the Hermit, Giovanni Maria de Agostini. Tracking Agostini from Italy throughout South and North America to his final resting place in Mesilla, Thomas has once again proven himself a master history detective. Of particular interest is the information about the Hermit’s life in Brazil, which closely parallels his remarkable experience in New Mexico, and required extensive research in Portuguese sources. Thomas’s efforts make it possible to understand this deeply religious man.” — Rick Hendricks, New Mexico State Historian
Paperback, 208 pages, 20 maps, 65 images, including two rare photos of Agostini, one taken in Chile in 1857 and one taken in Havana in 1861.
La Posta – From the Founding of Mesilla, to Corn Exchange Hotel, to Billy the Kid Museum, to Famous Landmark
By David G. Thomas
The story of a building, its people, and its place.
The building sits on a lot next to the plaza. The lot is a “terreno de solar,” a grant to a Mexican citizen by the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, on which to build a house. By the terms of the grant, the grantee is obliged to own a horse and a gun. Within a year or so the grantee – and his lot – are no longer in Mexico – they are both in the United States.
A merchant buys the home, and opens a store. He sells to a partner, who opens Samuel Bean & Co. The Civil War begins and the town is occupied by Confederates. The Confederates are driven out by the Union. Bean is denounced as a “Johnny Reb,” and a U. S. Marshal confiscates his store. It is sold for almost nothing on the town plaza. After a fast series of buyers make quick profits, Lola Bennett buys it and builds her dream home. She trades it to John Davis, who establishes the most famous hotel in New Mexico Territory, the Corn Exchange. Davis dies. His widow runs the Corn Exchange as long as she is able. She dies and the church inherits it. The church sells it to the town priest. The priest sells to George Griggs, the impresario of the Billy the Kid Museum. Griggs sells to “Katy” Griggs for $1, who opens the most famous eating place in southern New Mexico – La Posta.
The Corn Exchange hosts guest from as far away as London and Hong Kong, and cities like San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, New York, and Washington D. C.
Ulysses Simpson Grant, Jr., son of the president, stays at the Exchange. As does John S. Chisum, “Cattle King of the West,” just two days after being robbed of $100 and a gold watch in a Silver City stage holdup.
Virtually all of the significant people in Billy the Kid’s life stay at the Exchange: Sheriff Harvey H. Whitehill, who arrests Billy for his first crime; “Doc” Scurlock, Charles Bowdre, and Richard Brewer, Billy’s best friends; Attorneys Albert J. Fountain and John D. Bail, who defend Billy in his trial for murder; William Rynerson, the District Attorney who relentlessly pursues Billy; Simon Newcomb, the prosecuting DA in Billy’s trial; and Judge Warren Bristol, who sentences Billy to “be hanged by the neck until his body be dead.” Even Billy’s implacable enemies James Dolan and John Riley stay at the Exchange.
Did Billy stay at the Exchange? Someone signed his name. Was it he?
Paperback, 118 pages, 59 photos.
Ebook, all text and photos.
Youtube Video about the La Posta.
By Gerald W. Thomas
This is the sole personal account emerging from World War II of a carrier-based Torpedo Bomber pilot. Thomas served on combat duty with Torpedo Squadron 4 (VT-4) for 25 months, beginning in February, 1943. During this period, he was assigned to three aircraft carriers: the USS RANGER, USS BUNKER HILL, and USS ESSEX. On the RANGER he served in the Atlantic Theater; on the BUNKER HILL and ESSEX, he served the Pacific Theater. Air Group 4, of which Torpedo 4 was one component, was the only air group that served in both theaters of the war.
While on the RANGER, he participated in OPERATION LEADER, the most significant attack on Northern Europe by a US carrier during the war. OPERATION LEADER was a strike against German shipping and shore installations along the fjords south of Bodo, Norway. This operation was a complete surprise to the German defensive forces and destroyed 23,000 tons of shipping, damaged 4 other ships, and killed about 200 German troops.
During LEADER, while attacking a freight barge carrying 40 tons of ammunition, Thomas’ plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The engine began burning and it appeared the plane was going down. Thomas ordered his crew of two to bail out and had just opened the cockpit and was climbing out when his turret gunner yelled, “Don’t jump, don’t jump.” The other crewman had accidentally opened his parachute in the belly of the plane. With bailing no longer possible, Thomas considered his options and decided their best chance was to fly the plane toward the carrier as far as it would go. Surprisingly, in spite of the considerable engine damage, the plane made it back to the RANGER, where Thomas crash-landed. That landing was his 13th official carrier landing.
In the Pacific, Thomas participated in the numerous actions against Japanese targets in the Philippines, including strikes on Ormoc Bay, Cavite, Manilla, Santa Cruz, San Fernando, Lingayen, Mindoro, Clark Field and Aparri.
Following these actions, Thomas’ squadron made strikes on Formosa, French Indo-China, Saigon, Pescadores, Hainan, Amami O Shima, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Japan. The attack on Japan was the first attack on Japan from an aircraft carrier since the “Doolittle Raid.”
While on the ESSEX, just after Thomas had returned from a strike on Santa Cruz, the ship was hit by a Kamikaze piloted by Yoshinori Yamaguchi, Yoshino Special Attack Corps. Yamaguchi was flying a Yokosuba D4Y3 dive bomber. The Kamikaze attack killed 16 crewman and wounded 44.
You can listen to a 2001 interview in which Thomas describes Yamaguchi’s Kamikaze hitting the Essex (2.28 minutes).
On December 28, 1944, the Bombing Four (VB-4) component of Air Group 4 was replaced by two Marine squadrons, VMF-124 and VMF-213. Flying F4U Corsairs, these squadrons were the first carrier-based Marines of the war. Although they had trained for carrier operations, and were carrier qualified, the initial carrier deployment was costly, with two Marine pilots and three F4Us lost in the first two-day shakedown.
Returning from a strike on Hainan, off the Chinese coast, Thomas’ plane ran out of fuel. After a harrowing water landing, Thomas and squadron photographer Montague succeeded in inflating and launching one rubber boat and his crewman Gress another. After a long day in pre-Typhoon weather with 40 foot swells, the three were rescued by the USS SULLIVANS.
On March 1, 1945, Air Group 4 made its last strike of the war. The pilots and crew of all planes approached this strike on Okinawa with notable nervousness, no one wanting to lose their life or be taken POW on a last mission. Sadly, one Torpedo Bomber and one F6F Fighter where shot down by Ack Ack, costing three men their lives.
In recounting the events in this book, Thomas draws upon his daily journal, his letters home, and extensive interviews and research conducted over 40 years with fellow pilots and crewman. The book cites 20 interviews and 5 combat journals, and contains 209 photos documenting the ships, planes, men, and combat actions of Torpedo Squadron 4. Many of the photographs were collected by Thomas during the war and include gun photo shots, recon photos, and, remarkably, a picture of the tail of Thomas’ Torpedo plane as it sinks in the China Sea following his water landing.
Thomas was awarded 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 2 Air Medals, and 2 Presidential Citations for his combat actions in WWII. He retired from the Navy Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
Paperback, 280 pages, 209 pictures.
Ebook, all text and photos.
Thomas can be found @Gerald_W_Thomas.
YouTube Video of Thomas discussing Operation Leader: Operation Leader — World War II Battles
By Gerald W. Thomas
In preparing my memoir, Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II, I had a difficult time selecting the photos for the book because I had many choices. The 209 photos I eventually included were just 30% of the photos I had collected over 40 years relating to Air Group 4, Torpedo 4, the
USS RANGER, the USS BUNKERHILL, and the USS ESSEX.
In the year since the first book was published, I have received many letters and emails mentioning the photos. Many have expressed appreciation for the photos and several have asked about additional photos. Because of these requests I have decided to create a second volume with 120 supplemental photos.
This volume does not duplicate the history, recollections, and combat accounts of Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II. The intention is to supplement that book. If you enjoy photos, I think you will like what is presented here. The Navy photographers who took these photos did a superb job of documenting the Navy experience of World War II. They were polished professionals which their work well reflects. The photos are all black and white. Very few color photos were taken by Navy photographers during the war.
The 120 photos are arranged by subject matter. Topics include the USS RANGER, USS BUNKERHILL, USS ESSEX, Operation Torch, SBD Dauntless dive-bomber, SB2C Helldiver dive-bomber, TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, F6F Hellcat fighter, F4U Corsair fighter, Ulithi, Mog Mog, Saigon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and more.
By Gerald W Thomas
In this book, Thomas recounts growing up on a ranch in Idaho during the Great Depression, playing baseball with Jackie and Mack Robinson, joining the Navy after Pearl Harbor, and serving as a TBM Torpedo Bomber pilot on aircraft carriers in the Atlantic and Pacific.
In an air attack on Bodo, Norway, his plane was heavily damaged by AA fire. In spite of an oil leak that covered the cockpit canopy and reduced visibility to almost zero, he was able to crash-land on the carrier, saving himself and his two crewmen.
In the Pacific, he participated in air attacks on Manilla, Mindoro, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Japan. He had just returned to the USS ESSEX after a strike on Luzon when the carrier was hit by a Kamikaze, killing 16.
Thomas was awarded 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 2 Air Medals, and 2 Presidential Citations for his combat actions in WWII.
After the war, Thomas earned a PhD and after a distinguished academic career, became president of New Mexico State University.
Paperback, 270 pages, 205 pictures.