John W. Thomason, Jr., author, artist, and United States Marine Corps officer, was born in Huntsville, Texas, on February 28, 1893, the eldest of nine children of John W. and Sue Hayes (Goree) Thomason. He attended Southwestern University, Sam Houston Normal Institute, the University of Texas, the Art Students League in New York, and the Army and Navy War colleges. As a young man Thomason was a teacher, school principal, member of the Citizens Military Training Corps of San Antonio, and writer for the Houston Chronicle before he entered the United States Marine Corps on April 6, 1917. Later that year he married Leda Barbara Bass of Huntsville; they had one son.
Thomason's military career began with battlefield action in World War I, in which he fought in five major engagements and fourteen battles, including Belleau Wood, Château-Thierry, San Mihiel, Soissons, and Mont Blanc. His stations after the war included Cuba, Nicaragua, China, and the USS Rochester; he was an aide to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Col. Henry Roosevelt, worked at the Latin-American desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence, and was briefly involved in the Solomons campaign in World War II. As a writer-artist, Thomason was an illustrator primarily of his own books. His drawings were literary rather than decorative, and his artistic and writing career developed at the same time. In his lifetime he published more than sixty articles for such magazines as American Mercury, Scribner's, and Saturday Evening Post. He also wrote eleven illustrated books. Among the most famous are Fix Bayonets (1926), Jeb Stuart (1930), Gone to Texas (1937), Lone Star Preacher (1941), and a collection of short stories titled Salt Winds and Gobi Dust (1934). Five of his eight full-length books were about the marines and his experience in the military. His writing has been labeled "realistic romanticism" or "romantic realism." His only formal artistic training consisted of a year of instruction at the Art Students League. Hasty sketches of battlefield subjects in World War I, displayed at Knoedler's art gallery in New York, brought him to the attention of Scribner's. His drawings were mostly pen-and-ink sketches; his use of watercolor was confined to book jackets and occasional color plates. He drew mostly from memory and seldom used models.
Thomason was involved in World War II duties when he died in San Diego, California, on March 12, 1944. When the train bearing his body crossed the state border at El Paso, all official flags were lowered to half mast in his honor. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Huntsville. Colonel Thomason was awarded the Silver Star, Navy Cross, and Air Medal, among other military decorations, and an honorary LL.D. by Southwestern University. Thomason Park, a section of the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia, and the navy destroyer USS John W. Thomason were named in his memory, and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation created the Colonel John W. Thompson Jr. Award for distinguished work depicting some aspect of Marine Corps life. In addition, the Graphic Arts Building at Sam Houston State University bears his name, as does the special collections room of the university library, which houses a permanent exhibit of his drawings and manuscripts. In tribute to his late friend in the summer 1944 Southwest Review, J. Frank Dobie wrote: "In the name of people who, because of what you have written, are richer inside themselves and live more abundantly on the soil they belong to, I salute you, John W. Thomason, soldier in the old gallant tradition, fine Southern gentleman, and patriot who made your own corner of the earth more beautiful!"