Claude Ashin Thomas

Claude H. Thomas (born 1947) is a Vietnam vet, Buddhist monk and best selling author, who currently uses the name Claude Anshin Thomas (Anshin is a Japanese term meaning “settled faith.”)

Initially Medic felt Thomas’s military service was suspect. The Wikipedia entry for Thomas’s military service states:

“From September 1966 to November 1967, Thomas served as a helicopter crew chief in the Vietnam War. He began as a door gunner with the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh and was next assigned to the 116th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) in Phu Loi, where he began using the M60 machine gun. On one ground patrol, Thomas and four other men in his unit were fired upon by men dressed as Buddhist monks carrying weapons beneath their robes. All five soldiers were wounded and three died.

“As a soldier, Thomas killed several hundred Vietnamese people. The helicopter crews he worked on made bets among themselves on which soldiers could kill the most enemy troops. Thomas survived being shot down five times. On the fifth occasion, in mid-1967, he was shot down in the Mekong Delta. The pilot and commander were killed and the gunner and Thomas were wounded. Thomas was injured in the shoulder and face, and broke his jaw, cheekbones, ribs and neck, and split his sternum.

“Thomas received 25 Air Medals, the equivalent of 625 combat hours, and the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart military decorations.”

Medic felt there were several problems here. The 90th Replacement Battalion was an administrative unit responsible for housing and processing new GIs before sending them to their units. Since it had no combat support role the claim that Thompson killed hundreds of Vietnamese people with the 90th or 116th AHC seemed unlikely. As did the notion that a door gunner/crew chief accompanied grunts on patrol. In Medic’s experience, door gunners on CA’s (helicopter combat assaults) fired their M60s as the Huey’s loaded with grunts swooped in to land. They never left the chopper to patrol with the grunts.

Medic contacted several vets who served in the 116th AHC in ’66-’67. Each had similar doubts about Thomas, and thought he was likely a helicopter mechanic telling tales.

The name Claude H. Thomas appears on a roster in a section of the 1966 116th AHC Unit History, but no MOS is given.

Medic sent an FOIA letter to the National Archives requesting a summary of Thomas’s service record. NARA replied it could not locate any such file. Medic next contacted Mary Schantag at the pownetwork, who kindly sent NARA a more detailed FOIA query.

This time NARA sent a military service summary which substantiates that Claude Thomas is indeed a highly decorated door gunner and crew chief of the 116th AHC.

As a Buddhist monk, Thomas has written a best selling book–At Hell’s Gate: A Soldiers Journey from War to Peace, which describes his war exploits and subsequent struggle from deeply troubled veteran to Buddhist monk. He has made or appears in numerous videos which promote his meditation groups, which many veterans state have helped them to manage their PTSD.

The Zaltho Foundation, founded by Thomas in 1994, is committed to ending violence by promoting mindfulness and positive change within individuals suffering from PTSD.

Using practices based on the spiritual principles and teachings of Zen Buddhism, the Zaltho Foundation regularly works with combat vets, victims of war, sufferers of PTSD, and their families. Programs include meditation retreats and visits with veterans in prisons, hospitals, on war zones, in colleges and schools.