Former Legion commander passes at 81

-A A +A

Thornberry was instrumental in Post 34's success


The longtime commander of American Legion Post 34 and Korean War veteran Bobby Thornberry, 81, passed away suddenly Saturday at Baptist Health Lexington.

A mainstay at the Legion, Thornberry lead numerous efforts through his years of service that brought statewide and national recognition to the local post.

Funeral services were still pending Sunday afternoon at Ritchie & Peach Funeral Home, and were expected to be completed Monday.

Thornberry is survived by his wife, Shirley Ann Hyatt Thornberry.

Thornberry made headlines for years, including in 2015 when he traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of an Honor Flight, a program designed to thank veterans of war for their service by providing them a tour of the nation's capital.

Thornberry, an 11-year veteran of the United States Air Force, served two years as a radar operator on the tiny island of Fukushima during the Korean War. He and his wife, Shirley, are ardent supporters of the armed forces and when he received the chance to be part of an Honor Flight, Thornberry said he jumped at the chance.
“I was at the chamber of commerce gala last Christmas and [Congressman] Andy Barr (R-Lexington) was there,” Thornberry said last week. “He asked me if I was ever on an Honor Flight. I said no, and he asked if I’d like to go. Of course I said yes.”
Barr instructed a person with him to set the wheels in motion but after time passed, Thornberry said he figured nothing would come of it.
“Then I got a call and was told my name was being sent to a committee for consideration,” he said. “A few days later I got a call that I’d been chosen.”
Thornberry said he thoroughly enjoyed the one-day trip, which began with an airplane ride out of Louisville on which he and around 160 other veterans were accompanied by former Miss America Heather French Henry and her father, a veteran wounded in the Vietnam War.
The group was serenaded on the way to Washington by a singing trio called the Liberty Girls — “I got a picture with them,” Thornberry said — and was greeted upon landing by an estimated 500 people.
“They shook hands with us, hugged us and thanked us for our service,” he said.
From there it was on to visit the monuments. Thornberry said he visited the one erected in memory of his war, adding that the faces on the statues portraying soldiers wading through a field “were the saddest thing I’d seen.”
Thornberry recounted his time during the Korean War, saying that while he never actually fought in country, his job was to keep watch for hostile planes on the tiny island just south of Korea.
“I spent two years and 17 days on that island,” he said. “It was 5 miles wide and 10 miles long. Our job was to notify Japan of any hostile planes coming in.”
He also visited the World War II monument.
“Sen. [Bob] Dole was there to greet us,” he said. “As old as he is and in the shape he’s in, I told him it was wonderful that he could get out there.”
Thornberry said he also got a chance to cut a rug, something he never expected to do at the WWII monument.
“As we walked around the monument they had a band playing,” he said. “A young girl came up and asked me to dance. I told her I’m not much of a dancer but I gave in and danced. I was told she’s there every Saturday to dance with the veterans.”
Thornberry said the most special moment came while visiting the Iwo Jima monument.
“As I walked up to it, a group of high school kids came walking up to me, thanking me for my service,” he said.
Little did he know that the students approaching him just happened to be from Anderson County and were in town for their junior-senior trip.
“That was my biggest thrill,” he said. “One of them was my niece, Bell White. What are the chances of me going there on that day and meeting them?”
The trip also made him think of his brother, Leon, who also served in Korea.
“I thought of my brother a lot,” he said. “He was shot in the leg. When he came home in November, I went over in February.”
Thornberry said every facet of the May 16 trip was amazing, from the time he got on the plane in Louisville at 6 a.m. to the time he landed that night at around 10.
“Every veteran had an escort who stayed with the veteran the whole time,” he said. “If I needed some water, he went and got me some water … whatever we needed it was there.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that much for you while you’re going through it. It was a great experience — I cried a little and laughed a little — and to have people on both ends that you know was great.”

Born Aug. 29, 1935 in Anderson County, Bobby was the son of the late John Franklin Thornberry and Anna Belle Ward Thornberry. 
Along with his wife Shirley, Bobby is survived by three step-sons, James Dudley (Minnie) Davenport and Luther Allen (Ann) Davenport, both of Lawrenceburg, and Barry (Barbara) Estes of Lexington; and a sister, Osie Bowman. He was predeceased by sisters, Mary McDonald and Gladys Payne, and his brothers, John Lewis, Jack, Leon, and James Thornberry.