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Navy veteran, 94, journeys back into cave with lift from Fresno City football players

These football players helped a vet see the cave he created before WWII

A group of Fresno City College football players helped Chester Thompson, a 94-year-old Navy veteran, see the cave he opened to tourists before going off to fight in World War II.
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A group of Fresno City College football players helped Chester Thompson, a 94-year-old Navy veteran, see the cave he opened to tourists before going off to fight in World War II.

Fresno City College football players lent a helping hand to a 94-year-old Navy veteran.

In 1940, then-17-year-old Chester Thomason used dynamite to blow open Crystal Cave at Sequoia National Park, launching the spot as a popular tourist stop.

Thomason went on to serve in World War II but had not been inside the cave since. His wish was to return to the site, and his son, Corey, became even more determined to make that happen after an attempt in 2013 failed because of the treacherous terrain.

Mission accomplished Monday.

Rams players Jamal Pickett, Briquez Alvies, DJ Morgan, Boom Kubota and Braylen Williams answered the call.

Usually, the cave is not accessible by wheelchair. But an exception would be made for Thomason.

Corey Thomason knew he “needed college football players for this mission” and researched athletic departments in the central San Joaquin Valley. Eventually he zeroed in on coach Tony Caviglia and Fresno City.

“He asked, ‘Should I bring two or three? ’ ” Thomason recalls. “I said, ‘I’m a fan of overkill.’ I said three and he brought five, and I’m glad he did. Those guys did a tremendous job.”

Caviglia said “it took a lot of work” because of a “steep grade and a rocky path to the opening.” The players carried Thomason on his wheelchair past areas where there were steps.

“It was emotional. When he got down there the mouth of the cave, he started to reminisce about his best friend,” Corey Thomason said. “He was telling certain stories about the things he did. He made the passageways and since then stalactites have formed.”

Crystal Cave was first discovered by National Park Service trail crew employees Alex Medley and Cassius Webster in April 1918.

Current park ranger Katie Wightman, with eight colleagues, were thrilled to see Chester Thomason finally complete his return trip.

“We were happy to talk to him and get his story on that day,” Wightman said. “We came up with a plan to get Chester down there. It was a really amazing thing to do this incredible thing. I can’t say enough of those football players.”

Anthony Galaviz: 559-441-6042, @agalaviz_TheBee

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