Birthday: December 30, 1923
Birthplace: Blanchardville, Wisconsin
Family: Ed and Mary Thompson
Branch: Air Force
Unit: 86th Fighter Group
Post: 527 Fighter Squadron
Dr. John Thompson was a fighter pilot and a prisoner of war. He is a survivor of WWII. Enlisting in the Army Air Corps (later renamed Air Force) in 1942, he enjoyed the military and wanted to make it his life's work. He was sent to basic training in Jefferson Barracks a t St. Louis. Aviation cadet schools were filled, so he started training at Michigan State University. After one year of flight training, he received his "wings" at Moore Field in Texas. Combat training followed in the P-40 and P-47 airplanes.
"Being a fighter pilot there are times that you are frightened. The action goes so fast that the scary feeling doesn't occur until after it is over. Sometimes you come home at night and wonder when a friend was killed, you wonder when it might be your turn to be killed. You're flying alone in an airplane and depend on your own skills to survive. You had to do your own navigating, you had to be your own gunnery officer, you had to be your own pilot. It was a different situation than a bomber crew that had ten people in the airplane, and the pilot's job was only to fly the airplane, and the other people did the navigating and the bombing."
In December of 1944, Dr. Thompson was living in Pisa. "My final mission was scheduled for 0530, on December 31, 1944." The pilots were trucked out to the Pisa air base, which had been badly damaged by the Allies. They met for their briefing and eight P-47's were assigned a mission to destroy a bridge in northern Italy over the Po River. When the planes took off they were heavily loaded with bombs under each wing. Because of the tremendous weight, take off became a problem. The airstrip, which had been bombed earlier and was patched up with metal grating, was an added risk. Even with full power, they barely made it off the runway. During the flight to the bombsite, two of the P-47's developed problems and dropped out.
Dr. Thompson bombed the bridge, but when he pulled away from the target he realized he was in serious trouble. There were holes in the wings and smoke was pouring from the engine. Thompson was forced to bail out and landed in a field injuring his back. He got help from a local farmer and then surrendered to the German army. "On New Year's Eve, I drank with 11 German soldiers and gave a toast for world peace."
As a prisoner, he was transported to a prisoner of war camp in Barth, Germany located on the North Sea. There were two-thousand men crowded into an area of about 175 square yards. Food and medical treatment were minimal. "Showers were infrequent, and clothes washing was rare because the weather was cold and we only had one uniform. Lice and Scabies were always a constant threat." They wrote poetry and drew pictures to pass the time.
"On the first of May we awakened at one-thirty in the morning to find that we were free. The German guards had left the camp during the night to fight the Russian army." Now that he was finally free, Thompson went into Barth where he met the Russian army. "The worst thing I encountered was seeing this one family of German people killed by a member of their family, because of their fear of the Russian soldiers. To me that was the most horrible thing I saw during the war. Three children, one being a baby; the mother of these children, probably in her thirties, and, I suspect, either her mother or the German soldier's mother, all with a single bullet hole through their head. It was a horrible sight to behold. We buried them in the sandy beach, put a cross marker on them, and told the local people in Barth where these graves were.
War officially ended at midnight on the eighth of May. We left Barth on the thirteenth aboard the B-17's of the Eighth Air Force and we were glad to leave because we had developed a fear of the Russians. In France, the P.O.W.'s received health care and nutritious food. We arrived in the harbor in New York on the 22nd of June, and I remember with pride and thankfulness to see the Statue of Liberty." Soon he was on a train traveling to Wisconsin. "A reception with my family and many friends was overwhelming."
After graduation from the University of Wisconsin Medical School in 1951, Thompson returned to the Air Force serving in a general hospital treating the Korean War wounded soldiers. Following a fellowship in general surgery, he practiced in Nekoosa for forty years where he still resides with his wife, Germaine.
under Learn and Serve American Grant #00LSFWI104