Alexandria While studying diesel engines at school in Spartanburg, S.C., in 1954, Thomas* received the highest class grade — which came with the promise of getting to serve in the White House. And though the Army’s promise never came to fruition, Thomas and his two best buddies (who happened to receive the next two highest grades) did get to accompany a group of scientists at the North Pole for experimental work.
Every day, Thomas, using a bulldozer, pulled sleds with engines on them across the ice caps to wherever testing was taking place that day. Temperatures on the caps ranged from -69 to a balmy 40 degrees in the summer. Some days, during white outs, no one could see anything past a few inches in front of them — the snow was just blowing too hard and too fast. Because this severe cold took so much energy out of him, he was allowed one and a half rations at mealtime, and sometimes even got to eat steak when his captain, who loved steak and eggs, shared a meal with them.
After leaving the Army, Thomas actually got to work at the White House as an employee of an independently contracted construction company. He recalls working around the Presidents’ schedules, trying to complete as much work as possible when the President was traveling. Having first worked while JFK was in office, he remembers the Kennedys as very easy people with whom to get along, the First Lady especially. She gave Thomas and his coworkers pictures of the First Family before she vacated the White House.
Thomas recalls LBJ as being not as understanding about White House construction work, always asking his crew, “When you gon’ be done, you dirty people?” But at least Thomas had made it to the White House.
Having lived in his own white house in Alexandria for nearly 50 years, Thomas used to be his home’s “independent contractor.” But now, in his 80s, Thomas relies on volunteer organizations like Rebuilding Together, to assist him with home maintenance.
Rebuilding Together Alexandria is an award-winning, non-profit organization dedicated to repairing and revitalizing homes at no charge for homeowners in need, including elderly, disabled, military veterans, and families. To date, in-kind donations of labor and materials have resulted in $6.3 million worth of value on more than 1,600 projects. If you would like to apply, volunteer or donate, visit www.RebuildingTogetherAlex.org or call 703-836-1021.
It is Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s policy to not disclose full names.