In continuing with our Veterans Voices series, meet Joe the “Candyman” Thomas.
Thomas was drafted during the Korean War from 1951 through 1953. At 90 years old, he spends his free time putting smiles on every face he comes in contact with at the Burleigh County Senior Center.
Joe Alex Thomas has spent the last six years going to the Burleigh County Senior Center every chance he gets. While his infectious personality is enough to put a smile on your face, he’s known for more than that.
“I met Joe through the center here and every day he would always bring us dinner mints and would give everybody one. So that’s why we call him the candyman,” said Bismarck Senior Center Volunteer Sally Kraft.
But Thomas’s story started way before. He was drafted into the Korean War in the ’50s and said he spent most of his time clearing the minefields.
“I was proud of it really– what I’ve done and what the army made me do and I was proud of it. I didn’t like it at the time but what the heck,” said Thomas.
He spent many long, cold and scary nights keeping watch for supplies to be transported to the infantry post in the mountains of Korea. Even being from North Dakota, he said he wasn’t prepared for the weather he experienced there.
“It was cold and one Korean guy says to me, ‘You should be used to that you’re from North Dakota.’ No that wasn’t like this. It was a damp cold,” said Thomas.
It wasn’t long until Thomas moved to sergeant, and while he’s honored he was able to serve, he was ready to get back home.
“In a year before I got out they say, ‘Joe if you extend for another year we will give you another rank,’ and I say, ‘No you don’t got enough money.'”
It was when he got home and returned to Glen Ullin he would start the next journey of his life.
“I was a creamery man and I went and worked for Mandan Creamery and then they turned into Cloverdale and then I ended up smoking meat over there and smoked sausage,” said Thomas.
“If I had a penny for every weiner I smoked I would be a billionaire.”
Then he went onto marry his wife, have three beautiful children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Today he and his wife said they are loving retirement and spend five days a week going to the senior center passing out mints, meeting new people and most importantly keeping everyone smiling.
“He gets along with everybody and he will go and talk to anybody and he loves hugs so I always give him a hug,” said Kraft.
“I’m proud to be a veteran and I’m proud I’m coming to the senior center,” Thomas said.
If you need to smile or maybe just a dinner mint, you can find Thomas and his wife at the Burleigh County Senior Center Monday through Friday.