The Poplar Bluff Museum tells many unknown tales of our community. I want to tell you some of those hidden tales found within the museum walls.
By 1944, Walter F. Thies was already a decorated veteran of the Pacific theater. He was a young naval officer flying the F6F Grumman Hellcat fighter. He had been island hopping from one jungle airstrip to the next; Guadalcanal, Bouganville and many others. He was so close to the enemy he commented, “Once in a while we’d find a starving Japanese in our chow line.”
Thies’ squadron flew daily missions throughout the Solomon Islands, harassing enemy positions. On one such flight, Thies and his wingman spotted an enemy truck. They dived down strafing it with .50 caliber machine gun fire. His wingman got too steep and tried to pull up. When he did, he pulled back hard on his stick but accidently continued firing. Thies’ plane was hit in the fuel tank and landing gear. He was able to make it back to a friendly island only to crash land because he just had one wheel.
John Stanard tells about Thies’ exploits in his 1993 book “Butler County, A Pictorial History.” The book is on file in the Museum reference library. Theis’ personal flight gear such as his helmet, goggles, Mae West vest, holster and gold wings are on display in the World War II exhibit of the museum’s Kanell Hall. His photo is also displayed in the Hall of Heroes.
The museum is handicap accessible and open free of charge 1-4 p.m. every Sunday at 1010 Main Street. Tell them Mike sent you.
Mike Shane is a veteran, Poplar Bluff resident and board member for the Poplar Bluff Museum.