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Letter From Udell Cunningham, July 2006 Part 3: Generals in the Family

Posted in Family Biographies/Histories, Letters, and Primary Sources: Letters, Documents, Diaries, Histories

Doris [my grandmother] has two relatives that reached the General ranks in the Air Force. She had a cousin in Ardmore named Jack Thurman. He was in the Seabees during WW2 and was a 2nd Class Petty Officer. He had two sons that went to West Point Military Academy. One of the boys reached Brigadier General. He was the commander of Zweibrucken AB Germany when Wayne [my uncle] was stationed there. The other one reached Major General. Wayne has a book written by a (now deceased) General that was the first commander of Space Command at Colorado Springs. Well, in his book he told how General Thurman was used as the pit bull of the Air Force. If the Air Force had a base commander that the gen. staff at the Pentagon wasn’t pleased with they sent Thurman to the base. He would go there and find enough to fire the commander. What a job. I knew old Jack, he was a butcher at a grocery store. He must really be proud of his sons to make flag rank (general or admiral).

Note: You can read more about Major General James D. Thurman, one of the men referenced in this section of my grandfather’s letter, at his Ft. Hood, Texas biography page. He is currently — I believe — Commander of the Multinational Division, Baghdad, commanding 29,000 troops from all nations allied with America and fighting in Iraq. He is not in the Air Force, but rather the Army. An informative article, Why I Serve: Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, helps unravel more details about Maj. Gen. Thurman’s background:

Major General James D. ThurmanFORT HOOD, Texas, Aug. 26, 2004 — “I came from a very patriotic family,” explained Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman on why he joined the Army.

“When I was just a little guy, I remember going to Memorial Day with my grandfather, a World War I vet, and the whole town would turn out,” recalled the commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division. “He didn’t talk much about being in war, and he didn’t ask for medals or recognition. He made me realize early in life that the liberties and freedom we enjoy are not free.”

In the northwest corner of Thurman’s office, a rubber chicken hangs on a polished wooden plaque. The message is simple: “There ain’t no free chicken in the world, you’ve got to work for stuff.”

He said the quote represents a lesson he learned from his grandfather during his upbringing in the rural Oklahoma town of Marietta, population 3,000.

Framed flags, certificates, awards and photographs cover the walls of his office; memorabilia from almost three decades of service to his country.

“There are memories and people attached to everything on these walls,” Thurman said recently. “They represent something positive to me, even the rubber chicken.

Thurman’s father and three uncles served in World War II and Korea. And Thurman still vividly remembers the day in 1966 when his older brother arrived home from college and told his parents he was leaving school to serve in Vietnam.

“There are values and a sense of duty and responsibility to this country that I was raised with,” he said.

“There are 10 divisions in the Army and I have the honor to command one. Being with soldiers and being out there making a difference in the world, that’s why I serve. The most precious thing we have are the sons and daughters of this country and I am proud to serve with them.”

(Tam Cummings is editor of the Fort Hood, Texas, Sentinel News.)

More links:

A Google search will return a lot of sites mentioning Major General James Thurman, as he was recently in the news when he ordered an investigation into the killing of of a family of four in Mahmoudiya. I can’t find any information on a second general in the family, but did find several references to two Thurman brothers who were generals in the Air Force. They were born in North Carolina, and I am not sure I am related to them for that reason — as far as I know, the Thurmans in my family lived in the Oklahoma/Texas areas in the last 100 years. In a recent e-mail, my fellow Thurman researcher and second cousin once removed, Chris Stofel, said, “I’m attaching a letter I sent to our cousin Jerry Thurman, grandson of Albert, a little while back. Jerry’s brother Jim (James D.) Thurman is a general in the army.” Maj. Gen. Thurman and his brother Jerry would also be my second cousins once removed. My information is that Jerry Thurman is a retired colonel. I think it could be that our cousins, James and Jerry Thurman, were confused with the Thurman brothers General Maxwell Reid Thurman and Lt. General John R. Thurman, III (who are no relation as far as I know). Doing some digging, I was able to find references to the book my uncle has. It must be From One Stripe to Four Stars by Gen. James V. Hartinger, who was the first commander of Space Command at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, but I can’t search inside the book to see the full name of the General Thurman he referred to. It is probable that it is either General Maxwell Reid Thurman or Lt. General John R. Thurman III rather than my own relative, Maj. Gen. James Thurman.

Click on the thumbnail below to see an image of Albert James Thurman’s WWI Draft Registration Card (Albert James Thurman was the grandfather of James Thurman and Jerry Thurman). Note: It is a poor quality image and difficult to read.

Albert James Thurman, WWI Draft Registration Card

I located Albert James Thurman on the 1930 Census with his wife Mollie. Open this thumbnail image and scroll down to line 58 (near the top):

Albert James Thurman, 1930 Census

He has a son Jack W., who is 6 years old. This is my grandmother’s cousin Jack that my grandfather referred to in his letter. Here you can view Albert James Thurman’s 1920 census record:

Albert James Thurman, 1920 Census

I think this is an interesting example of how a story is passed down or told in a family, and details change or are otherwise unclear, which can result in conclusions that may not be correct.

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  1. I served with both Col.James and Col.Jerry Thurman.Col Jerry Thurman in Budingen Germany 1983 -1985 and Col James Thurman in Bamburg and Schwienfurt Germany 1991-1993. Both where the best officers in the entire Army

    January 12, 2007
    • Ted

      I too served with both and agree that they was the best

      February 28, 2015
  2. James Moreno, SFC (R)
    James Moreno, SFC (R)

    LTG Thurman, J.D. then a LTC was my squadron commander in Schweinfurt 3/4 Cav which I was there from 1993-96 and he was there until late 94 early 95. J.D. is a legend from all his former soldiers and through the remaining years of my Army career which I retired from 3ACR in 2006 he was talked about in every conversation because everyone had served with him somewhere or they just listened to the awesome stories. A friend of mine who is a CSM that served with him recently with 4ID confirmed to me that he was just like I had told him. I remember him as a great man who takes care of soldiers and don’t put up with crap with anyone messing with his soldiers. Work hard and smart and he will be right beside you kickin ass! I took his words to heart and to this day I tell his stories about how great the Army is and they even color coordinate your clothes for you and the threats to spend weeks at a time in area mud if we keep getting these bomb threats. The calls he made to the housing office for his soldiers and they had housing that day. Doing the Cav Cheer at Gen Shenseki’s Hail & Farewell. JD was always first in the chute and led by example. I know he’s doing great things leading 5th Corp and they too will have more stories to tell.

    July 7, 2007
    • We have served in the same area. Not sure if you remember me but I was than LTC Thurmans Driver.

      We had the honor of serving under a great leader.

      March 11, 2013
  3. Bob Barker  MSG Ret
    Bob Barker MSG Ret

    I was very luck to serve with then MAJ JD Thurman when he flew Helicopters at Fort Hood. He is one of the most genuine individuals I have ever met and in my mind when I first met there is no doubt that he would have a successful career. He is genuine, has feelings for the individuals around him and I feel blessed to call him a friend.

    November 9, 2007
  4. Jim Hamby
    Jim Hamby

    I know both Jim Thurman (LTG Thurman) and Jerry Thurman well. They are from Marietta, Ok. and graduated from East Central University in Ada, Ok. Jim is presently stationed at the Pentagon where he is the G3 for the entire U.S. Army (in charge of all operations and training for the army). His brother is a retired Col. and lives at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Both are Armor officers (tankers) and both are also helicopter pilots. Jerry recieved the Distignuished Service Cross for Bravery in Viet Nam (next to the Medal of Honor). I expect Jim to get his fourth star this year.

    March 13, 2009
  5. Bruce Wilson
    Bruce Wilson

    My name is Bruce Wilson, and I served under Jerry Thurman when he was Captain of A/Company, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Division. I served under Capt Thurman from 1976 to 1977–my last year in the Army–he is among the finest men I have ever known. I would love to have the chance to say hi to him and thank him for one of the best years of my life. He would remember First Sergeant Britt; they served together for a good while. Ist Sgt. Britt was also among the finest men I have ever known. These men served our country with all their heart…
    My email is If you are able to pass this on to Col Jerry Thurman, I would greatly appreciate it.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Wilson

    September 20, 2009
    • Lisa Britt
      Lisa Britt

      Bruce, I am 1st Sgt Jim Britt’s daughter and I thank you for your kind words. Dad and JW Thurman still stay in contact and I last saw JW about 1 year ago.

      November 27, 2012
      • Steve Lewis
        Steve Lewis

        Lisa, tell 1Sgt Britt, Sgt Lewis said hello !!

        September 26, 2014
    • Steve Lewis
      Steve Lewis

      Bruce I also served with you, under Capt Thurman and 1Sgt Britt. All thought not tanker trained, I fired Top Gun, Fall 1976/ Spring 77 – 2nd Plt /Alpha 23 ….Won the last cash pot in 76. Was proud to be a “Smokebringer”

      September 26, 2014
  6. James Moreno, SFC (R)
    James Moreno, SFC (R)

    Soon to be General Thurman and FORSCOM Commander. I hope he gets the next Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army position. I am proud to have served with him.

    April 26, 2010
  7. It warms my heart to read such kind words about the Thurmans. General Thurman looks an awful lot like my great-grandfather and some of my Thurman cousins. I recently obtained a picture of the Thurman family including Albert James Thurman as a boy. I have wondered if either Jim or Jerry has it.

    July 10, 2010
  8. Brian Powers, SFC
    Brian Powers, SFC

    I served under Jerry Thurman, J.W as we called him, in Buedingen in 85 – 86. As a new soldier he was bigger than life. I had never seen so many medals on anyone like what he wore. I still today after 26 years in the Army I regard him as one of the finest officers I’ve ever met. I remember myself and a fellow soldier who happened to be his driver, get in a little trouble with the MP’s and he said to us “If you idiots want to do something right next time call me and I’ll show you how to do it”. What a great leader and would follow him anywhere.

    March 2, 2011
  9. I served under LTC Thurman in Budinguen in 3/12 Cav as a section SGT in the mid 80s,what a man, future SMA Rich Kid was also there as my 1SG, what a pair! Storys I could tell of leadership when things were going down on the East/West German border and the alerts we had as well as Softball games. He saved me from Recruiting duty and other things as he knew I loved Armor and My Cav and My M60 A1 back then, I and my fellow tankers made it thru Desert Storm on M1A1s thanks to him!
    JR Wood

    June 15, 2011
    • Jamie Wilden SFC Ret.
      Jamie Wilden SFC Ret.

      I also had the privilege to serve under JW, 1SG Kidd and with JR Woods…John is correct in all he says about these leaders, they were great in and out of uniform!

      August 15, 2011
  10. Jamie Wilden SFC Ret.
    Jamie Wilden SFC Ret.

    I was honored at my retirement ceremony at Ft. Knox in 2002 to have JW there and remember our good ole Germany days in 3/12 Cav at swingin Buedingen. I remember on a training exercise when my vehicle became mired in a mud hole and JW pulled up and said damn it Wilden you have about 30 seconds to get your vehicle unstuck and back in the battle and 15 seconds are already going…He called me mudhole after that! Great man and Leader!

    August 15, 2011
    • It is so nice to hear all these stories about my cousin from people who have served with him. Thank you!

      August 19, 2011
  11. Jorge Concepcion MAJ Ret
    Jorge Concepcion MAJ Ret

    I served under COL JW Thurman in Germany with the 3/12 Cav as a Cav Platoon leader and Support Platoon leader. This is a true story; JW Thurman got himself a pig as a mascot for the Squadron. He named him Lieutenant “Want Too”. The “Lieutenant” even has a hat with a 2LT bar on it. The reason for a pig was that it rooted around just like us Cavalry Men rooted around the battlefield for the enemy regardless on how bad and dirty it got for us. As LT Want Too’s fame spread across 3rd Armor Division a reporter from the Stars and Stripes came over to Beudingen to interview JW and his pig. Among other questions the reporter asks JW about why he had an animal as dirty as a pig for a mascot that roots around in the dirt. JW with is characteristic humor said “If our boss (Div Commander MG Anderson, a West Point Grad) can have a jack ass as a mascot I can have a pig as my mascot! LT Want Too eventually got too big and retired to a German farm where I’m sure he eventually became bacon. Those were great times.

    January 19, 2012
    • I love that story. Thanks for sharing it!

      January 19, 2012
  12. John M. Howden LTC Ret
    John M. Howden LTC Ret

    I served with then MAJ JD Thurman when he was the XO, 3rd Sqdn, 6th Cavalry, 6th Cav Bde in 1990 at Ft Hood, TX. One of the funniest stories I have (wasn’t funny at the time) is when the Sqdn was conducting an AH-64 gunnery and one of the 30mm gun’s jammed on the range. One of the Maintenance Pilots flew it back to the airfield for repair. The next morning the Armament Maintenance Office and an Armament tech climbed in and powered up the gun system. Someone pulled the trigger and a 30mm round was luanched just missing the Apache parked in front of it. An investigation was conducted and to this day they never found that round; they figure it landed somewhere the Killeen High School. JD Thurman was the officer that came out to the range to inform me of the incident. I will never forget the day as long as live. We were all lucky to get promoted to the next rank after this fiasco. JD was and still is one of the finest officers I have ever served with. I go to hell and back for this man.

    Heavy Cav!

    March 15, 2012
  13. Richard A. Russell
    Richard A. Russell

    I knew Jerry when we were classmates at Robinson Barracks (FAOCS) in 1966-67. I guess you could say, in the beginning. We were in the same platoon. I’ve read the recollections of those, here. who have served with him later in his career and it doesn’t surprise me at all. I remember him as a fun loving, charismatic guy who would always step forward to take the lead and everyone else wanted to follow. Wanted! Alpha males. An extraordinary man. From a group of mostly unforgettable characters he stood out and is one of a few that I haven’t forgotten.

    If you happen to read this, Jerry, then, “Way to go!”

    May 6, 2012
  14. I was at the time LTC JD Thurman at Schwienfurt as the Commander of the third Infantry Fourth Cav. I was actually the “Then” LTC’s Driver (Cpl. Correll).

    Besides taking victory laps after beating the OPFOR in Hohenfels Germany (twice), I remember so many of the small things that made a big impression on me today. It could be our tent falling down from the weather out in the field, him telling me “Correll, your nose is cold” or just wanting to drive around post and stopping at every soldier under his commandy private to Majors and shake their hand and truley ask them how they are doing.

    I have been trying to get a hold of him for so long and I truly hope he finds this and contacts me. General, at the time I was maybe 21 but your qualities keep with me today! There is nobody better for our soldiers at your current command in Korea and my prayers are with you, your soldiers and your family.

    Miss you all!! Jassen Correll 303-883-1130

    March 11, 2013
  15. John Burch
    John Burch

    I, too, have known and served with both JW and JD over the course of my military career. I first met JW when he was a company commander in Kirchgoens, FRG, in 1974. Although we commanded companies in different battalions, we spent a lot of time together, especially at the officers’ club. JW and I have maintained a friendship since those early days–both Vietnam veterans and both keeping watch over JD who, although he want admit it, got a lot of professional assistance from the two of us–a bit of humor. JD came to the 2d Brigade, 1st Cavalry as the Executive Officer for 1-32 AR prior to our deployment in support of the Gulf War. We have stayed in contact with each other ever since. JW and I often refer to JD as the little brother although he is now a 4-Star General. JW Thurman is one of my heroes and his brother, JD, is not far behind. These two professionals have given much to our Army and I love them both as if they were my brothers.

    April 4, 2013
  16. Rick Smarr
    Rick Smarr

    I recall meeting COL J.W. Thurman at Fiddler’s Green at FT Knox in 1989. We had a memorable time, with COL Greg Fontenot having me “announce” the Chair Rodeo on the dance floor. What a hoot!! We ended up being asked to leave the club, and I’ll never forget it. “And now, coming out of chute number one, from Marietta Oklahoma… The hometown favorite… J….W…. THURMANNNNNN!!!” He was an “old Soldier” who I admired immensely.

    I met JD Thurman a few years later at FT Stewart, Ga when he assumed command of the 2nd Brigade there. I was excited because I would get to see JW again. Well, I did, and I also found out that Soldiering was in that family’s blood. COL J.D. Thurman was EVERYTHING that all the replys here say he was. A Soldier’s Soldier, and a great man. I served as one of his Battalion Executive Officers for a year. What a year that was. I will always count my experiences with “those Thurman boys” as memorable and morally enhancing. Thanks Sir!… Both of you. Rick

    April 11, 2013
  17. Larry Bowling of Texas
    Larry Bowling of Texas

    I took the dna test that the director of genealogy took Alexander Bowling. I have everthing from his civil war discharge down to my birth. I would like it very much if you would contact me. 214=770=4711

    December 22, 2013
  18. Will Arnold
    Will Arnold

    Never served with either of these fine Warriors BUT while in the 11th ACR I fondly remember the “chili cook Offs” between the “Blackhorse” and the 3/12 Cav Commanded by JW. Again in the mid 80s while attending a Blackhorse Reunion a Camp Carlson I remember with amusement JW auctioning off his Top Hat for the benefit of the Blackhorse Scholarship – can’t remember what it brought but it was a hefty amount. I see JW on a frequent basis at the American Legion in Elizabethotwn KY, though his health is not the best he is still “Cav” in everyway.

    February 27, 2014
    • Scott Potter
      Scott Potter

      My wife won the first Texas Chili Cook Off during my first troop command under JW in the 3/12, only remember one such occasion. Mrs. Abrams was one of the judges and all 3 of her sons were there. Got to meet Jimmy (then MAJ) and Doc Bahnsen during that tour! May God give JW rest eternal.

      February 27, 2015
  19. COL(ret) Derek C. Swope
    COL(ret) Derek C. Swope

    COL(ret) JW Thurman is a warrior. He is a great leader and a superb teacher. JW is a true patriot. I am privileged to know him.

    April 11, 2014

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