GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – “I was either going to be a pilot or a chef, one of the two,” Mike Thomas recalled.

With a love of cooking and flying, Mike Thomas really couldn’t go wrong with his career choice.

But he settled on pilot, with the U.S. Air Force.

“[I played] three sports in high school, was all-state in basketball, and I was recruited by the Air Force Academy and had an appointment from Chicago. So, that was kind of a dream for me to be at the academy, and then after the academy, flying,” said Thomas.

Specifically, bombers.  

“A lot of my friends were fighter pilots, and there’s a difference between a fighter pilot and a bomber pilot, but I always loved bombers, my favorite aircraft is a B-17,” he said.

As a B-52 pilot, Thomas did two tours in Vietnam in ’71 and ’73.

“Basically you flew every day. When we were out of Thailand it was a four-hour mission. You flew in missions of three B-52s. Each of us carried around 115-500 pound bombs, we would drop our ordinance in what they called a ‘box.’ In about 60 seconds, you would have 345-500 pound bombs going off and it was devastating. It was one of the greatest strategic aircraft in Vietnam,” Thomas said.

Five decades later, Thomas is no longer a B-52 pilot and Captain in the Air Force.  

But he’s still very involved in the veteran’s community, serving as the President of Wisconsin Veteran’s Village in Appleton, and helping veterans transition into a better life.

“Veterans, most of them are pretty tough. I used to have a code with my dad at the academy, ‘Code Red.’ If you’re really in trouble, you say ‘Code Red.’ I only did it once in four years. Veterans are much like that, their arms will fall off before they ask for help,” said Thomas.

And Thomas’ mission now is to not only change that mindset but show people where to look for that help. 

“The bond you have in the military is a bond that is different than anything else. That’s why it’s important for me as a bond to all veterans, even though I didn’t serve with them, I understand them, and that’s to help them get through their issues and problems,” he said.