We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
My name is John B. Thompson. All my friends call me Jack.
I am the son of a Methodist minister, so we moved around a lot when I was growing up... Places like Comanche, Coolidge, Waco, Fort Worth, Meridian, and Hillsboro.
When I was 18 years old, we moved to Waxahachie and lived on Grand Avenue. My dad had retired from preaching, but he taught a Sunday school class at the First Methodist Church.
It wasn’t long after Pearl Harbor was attacked that I decided to join the Army Air Corps. It was March of ’42 when I went in.
I trained as a pilot at Millville Army Air Field in New Jersey. The flying was going just real fine, and I was truly getting the hang of all this.
It was about that time that I was promoted and got married to a wonderful girl. Her name is Dorothy. Everything was just going swell for me. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Then it was on to Richmond, Virginia where I became part of the 387th Fighter Squadron. We flew the P-47 Thunderbolt, or as we called it, “The Jug”… It was one sweet machine!
In the fall of ’43, we got our orders to ship out to England. We arrived at our assigned quarters in December. It was a Royal Air Force station named Gosfield, located about 40 miles north of London.
We were made part of the 365th Fighter Group, seventy-five planes in all, assigned to the 9th Air Force.
Our first mission came in February of ’44, flying bomber support for Eighth Air Force B-17’s. On the 2nd of March, we tangled with German fighters in the Bastogne area… We lost one of ours, but we shot down six of theirs.
In May, I was awarded the Air Medal by General Brereton, the commanding general of the 9th Air Force. The medal was nice and all, but I didn’t feel that I earned it any more than the next guy… I was just proud to be doing my part.
After nine missions they moved us south to a different airfield, R.A.F. Beaulieu in Hampshire. Our group stood down for a few days, and we underwent a 2-week course in ground attack and fighter-bombing.
The invasion was coming soon, and our mission was to go in and soften up the enemy behind the landing zones. Our targets were bridges, airfields, enemy trains, gun positions and V-1 launch sites.
On D-Day, we attacked gun emplacements and enemy communications just behind the landing beaches. The next day we flew four separate missions trying to keep the German counter-attack away from our guys on the beachhead… We lost five pilots that day… five good men.
On the 15th of June, my commanding officer sent me to London to be interviewed by the BBC. My voice went out live over the radio to all of the United Kingdom… Sort of a pep talk you could say… That was an experience, something that I will never forget.
On the 25th our group had one of its best days, destroying eight enemy fighters. When it came to air-to-air combat, our fighter group was the tops, shooting down 29 German aircraft in the four months that we operated out of Beaulieu airfield.
On the 26th of June, we started moving our fighter group to an improvised airfield in the Normandy region of France, just behind our front lines.
The place was called Advanced Landing Ground “A-7”. It was near Azeville, France and had a single runway of a square-mesh metal track.
We bunked in tents just off a mud road. There was a supply dump down the way where our ammunition was stored. Our gas was brought up in metal drums.
At night we could hear the guns off in the distance and see the flashes on the far horizon… Here, I slept with my .45 close-by.
Every day, we flew multiple missions supporting the ground troops, strafing German vehicles and bombing gun emplacements… I saw things… A lot of horrible stuff.
On the 4th of July, I was promoted to Captain and made flight commander of my squadron… Not bad for a country boy I reckon.
During these months of combat, I had seen a lot of good friends killed. Sometimes it’s hard to say why they died, and I made it back unhurt… I hope this all counts for something positive one day.
On the 10th of August, I took off at 09:45 with 23 other P-47 Thunderbolts on an attack mission on the German artillery in the area of Sourdeval, France… It was my 47th mission.
After 25 minutes of flying, we reached our objective and began our attack. During my bombing run, I took a few hits from ground fire.
It hit my engine cowling, nothing too serious. I did notice some smoke and broke off my attack… radioed to my wingman that I was returning to base.
On my way back, the engine started to lose power and my airspeed dropped way off. I began to lose altitude fast. I hated to lose the plane, but it was now apparent that I wouldn’t make it back. I was almost in a dive now, so I made the decision to jump before it was too late.
I pushed the canopy open, stood up on the seat and jumped. As soon as I pulled the cord, I was snapped back hard by the chute.
My Chute! It was caught on the tail of my plane.
I did my best to free myself… but it would not come off.
My plane spiraled down... I never quit trying.
It was a Thursday, the 10th of August 1944, and I was 21 years old.
We were Airmen once, and young. Remember us.