You don’t need to be Superman to be a hero

Following his U.S. Army service in World War II, Thompson joined the Air Force, retiring with more than 20 years of service at the rank of major and earning his master’s degree. Courtesy of Jeremy P Amick

Growing up with dyslexia, James Thompson faced many challenges in his early learning experiences, which tempered his ambitions toward pursuing an education in future years.

Additionally, while in the eleventh grade in the fall of 1944, he received his draft notice and believed it to be the end of any formal education; instead, the military later provided the spirit and resources to earn a master’s degree.

“I was 18 years old when I received my draft notice for the U.S. Army and left Columbia by bus on October 20 (1944),” said the veteran. “When we arrived at Jefferson Barracks (St. Louis), we were given another physical, issued our uniforms and the next morning put on a train to Camp Crowder.”

For the next few weeks, he underwent his basic training followed by lineman training, instruction as a radio operator and cryptographic training.

“The first sergeant came and got me and said there’s a guy (in civilian clothes) who wants to interview you,” Thompson said. “After that, I was in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),” he added.

Serving as “the first organized effort by the United States to implement a centralized system of strategic intelligence,” the OSS was established on June 13, 1942 and conducted many covert functions such as receiving and decoding enemy communications.

In the summer of 1945, Thompson received orders for overseas service. He took a train to California and, from there, sailed aboard a troop ship to the island of Eniwetok. His journey ended with his arrival at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where he spent the next several months as a cryptographer.

General William J. Donovan reviews Operational Group members in Bethesda, Maryland prior to their departure for China in 1945.

“The OSS was disbanded because the war was over,” said Thompson. “I can remember that in late November 1945, there were about six of us transferred from the Philippines to Tokyo, Japan, at the headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur who was there as oversight for the occupational forces.”

The veteran explained that he was part of a group who processed messages sent to and from Sixth Army and MacArthur’s headquarters. While there, he was later promoted to sergeant and placed in charge of the code room, which had the responsibility of decoding message traffic.

While in Japan, his enlistment expired but he chose to remain there as a civilian to continue the work he enjoyed at McArthur’s headquarters. However, in June 1947, he returned to the United States and was able to enroll in college at the University of Missouri despite having not completed his high school education a few years earlier.

MacArthur and the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, at their first meeting, September 1945

“In 1951, I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology,” recalled Thompson. “While I was at MU, I was informed that since I had held the rank of sergeant in the Army, I could complete one semester of ROTC and qualify for commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force upon graduation.”

The former soldier began his Air Force career as an officer when assigned to Bangor, Maine, administering entrance exams for new recruits and draftees. It was here that he met the former Barbara Longfellow while taking courses at the University of Maine and the two soon married. The couple went on to raise three sons.

From there, he was briefly transferred to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, before receiving assignment to Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli, Libya, spending time as an administrative officer for the 580th Air Materiel Assembly Squadron.

Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, United States – 20 Feb 1995

 

“I became the adjutant for the base administrative officer at Selfridge Field (Michigan) in 1959,” he explained. “I made captain while I was there and then became the administrative officer and later commander for the 753rd Radar Station at Sault St. Maria, Michigan.”

He would later attend the first class of the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington D.C., as the various military service branches learned to combine their intelligence gathering capabilities.

From 1962 to 1966, he was stationed in Ramstein, Germany, gathering intelligence on the Soviet air capabilities.

In Germany, he took courses through the University of Southern California, earning his master’s degree in systems management. He was then transferred to Little Rock, Arkansas, for a year followed by his assignment to Vietnam. During the war, he was stationed in Nha Trang and briefed pilots prior to their aerial missions.

“I was given my base of choice when returning to the states in 1969, so I chose Whiteman Air Force Base,” said Thompson. “I spent the last few months of my career there and retired as a major with 20 years, 1 month and 1 day of service,” he grinned.

Whitman Air Force Base

His military career, he explained, was a collection of unique experiences that did not follow a linear path. As a child, he further noted, he would never have imagined the opportunity for an advanced education or the option of pursuing his interest of becoming a member of the military.

“When I was younger, the military was something I always wanted to do and I never believed I could join the Army or Air Force because of my dyslexia,” he said. “My ambitions weren’t all that high as a child but then I was drafted, I encountered people who I admired and inspired me to achieve.”

He concluded, “When it was all said and done, I not only got to serve both in the Army and Air Force, but this young man,” he said, pointing to himself, “who didn’t finished high school, was able to earn a master’s degree … all because of the military.”

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Military Humor –

Navigator to pilot… navigator to pilot… HALP !!

Two other CBI newspapers for the troops.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Elizabeth Birkhimer – Greenfield, IL; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Robert Dean – NY; US Navy, WWII, PBY pilot

James Fraser – Stratford, CT; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Richmond

Margaret Goodell – Taplin Hill, VT; US Army WAC, WWII, 2nd Lt.

William Hunter – Knoxville, TN; US Army, WWII/ Korea

Warren Kepner – Harrisburg, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Benjamin Neal – Norfolk, VA; US Army, WWII

Lowell Rutherford – Battle Creek, MI; US Navy, WWII, PTO, 113 SeaBees

Richard Sprague – Dewey, OK; US Navy, WWII, USS Indianapolis

Joe Varela – Norwalk, CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, HQ Co./187th/11th Airborne Division

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 8, 2019, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 120 Comments.

  1. James Thompson is an inspiration in all his achievements !

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A great story. In much the same way the Australian Forces trained those who had “fallen through the cracks” (for all sorts of reasons) when it came to education. It was a deliberate policy and I was one of the beneficiaries. Many of the skilled men (some quite brilliant) that I worked with after my army days were ex-forces and had had this “second chance” at a career.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Een fantastische loopbaan wat weer bewijst dat mener altijd moet blijven in geloven en dat volwassenen soms de bal misslaan en de sreening van kinderen en hen zo veel kansen ontnemen.fantastisch wat die man bereikte

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Fantastic story, more so to know a young man can overcome shortcomings to achieve a commendable outcome, a great man who contributed much to the Army and Air Force.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Best wishes to Mr. Thompson from me, too. You so often hear negative stories of veterans who fail to find a role after serving, it’s good to show the positive side. All about attitude and self-determination, I guess!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. An inspiring career to read about.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wonderful and interesting story. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. My first thought was that his dyslexia probably helped him in his career, and I see from the comments that’s true. I also thought it interesting that it once was called “word blindness.” That’s such a descriptive term — I’m surprised I’ve never heard it used, but I come across a lot of new information from your readers. Learning to make the best of any situation is one of the most important life skills, and I think the military teaches it as well — or better — than our schools.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is truly inspiring. Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I don´t even know what cryptographic means…. But you are certainly right on the title of the post. And you ask him if he was a hero he´ll say no. Actually the guy would probably look at your or whoever with a face that said your nuts, the héroes as you well know are the ones that died for the other person next to them and trying to accomplish the misión. You are a hero in my eyes for the research you do and bring it to light.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing James Thompson’s remarkable and inspiring story, GP. I’m sharing it too…

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Crytoanalytics in the Philippines? Japanese?? Woukd you know? Kinda unusual…

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Interesting and inspiring

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Very inspirational. I think this story should be shared with students who have similar challenges today.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. No truer words than these! Our heroes do not sport blue capes with big S’s on them, but they do have the wings of angels! Thank you, GP, for acknowledging them, and bringing forth their greatness in your posts! ♥️Tamara

    Liked by 4 people

  16. What a career. There really is opportunity in everything, but you have to be the type of person to take advantage of it. And there’s probably a smattering of good luck too! Great tale – and, yes, inspiring.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. The military isn’t really that fashionable a career choice in England at the moment. We seem to be frightened that patriotism will offend somebody in our highly variegated society. The truth remains though, that for a lot of young men and women, often left to their own devices in third rate schools, the forces are often the making of them. I just wish that they could be a little better paid. I’d much rather have a soldier in the trench next to me than many much more highly paid jobs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Patriotism should never go out of style when you spend day after day with the freedoms that military won for you – at least that’s my opinion. I am happy there are so many flags in front of the homes in my neighborhood – but there can always be more.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. What an inspiring story! In spite of his disability, the military saw potential in him and he took advantage of it and made a name for himself. A great role model for everyone.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Surmounting a different kind of adversity. (I know someone who has dyslexia and is very good at anagrams)

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Great uplifting post!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Thompson is living proof that the military can be a way up or a way out for many people. Wish more people realized that. Thanks for sharing his story. Inspirational person.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Great article, shows what you can do if you are given the chance, WW2 & the military were the chance but James rose to that challenge and flourished. Good on him.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Have just finished a library book that may appeal to you, GP—

    “The Killing School” by Brandon Webb.

    —I found it interesting. (Sniper SEAL.)

    Liked by 2 people

  24. GP, what an uplifting story. In spite of James’s dyslexia he succeeded in education. This happened to a friend of mine too! He was a Vietnam Vet, worked in the code room deciding message traffic. College followed because of the military. As a kid he wasn’t formally diagnosed with dyslexia, and was held back in school. Success came to him anyway. 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 3 people

  25. I heard Patton also had dyslexia

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Great story of succeeding in life despite a disability. Someone in the military saw something special beneath that disability and encouraged him to greater things. Always enjoy hearing a great success story in life, which in this case would not have happened without his service in the military.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. What a great example of how life can take some turns we never even imagine if we’re just open to them. I know the military has helped many people find their way forward in life, and that should be recognized. Thanks for this story!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. It just goes to show what is achievable with encouragement and direction. That’s a pretty impressive record by anyone’s standard!

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Our son-in-law has dyslexia, G, but is close to brilliant and highly successful.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. I didn’t even know that there was an awareness of dyslexia back then as my brother was diagnosed in about 1963 and the term was relatively new. But I just searched and found that before 1962 there was a long history of an awareness of dyslexia, but it was called word blindness.

    Like James Thompson, my brother proved some of his early teachers wrong and went on to be Phi Beta Kappa in college, was accepted to every medical school to which he applied, went to NYU Medical College, and has had a long and very successful career as a doctor. My brother was told by the psychologist who diagnosed him that there was a correlation between dyslexia and high intelligence and that he should never let anyone tell him he was stupid or couldn’t do anything he wanted. He listed to that psychologist and never once doubted himself.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. A role model for anyone with dyslexia.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Terrific story, GP. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Good for him to take advantage of the opportunities.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. People forget that the armed forces can give opportunities to people who otherwise would have missed out.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. Great story of a great career. It just demonstrates what one can achieve if they put their mind to it and do not quit. I was thinking about this post, and it reminded me of something I used to tell my karate students.

    We cannot choose whether or not we are a role model. That decision in not under our control. We can only choose what kind of role model we will be. This man would have been an excellent role model, and to many, certainly a hero!

    Liked by 2 people

  36. What an inspiring story! Thanks GP!

    Liked by 2 people

  37. the army was my saviour as well. i was just bumming around in my hometown, with no clear path for my life. my dad forced me to take the entrance exams. fortunately i passed. the army gave me a good life. 38 plus years of fulfilling service before retiring. am indebted to the service for making me what i am today. cheers to all the soldiers, and the families of soldiers!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for bringing us your story and of course – for your service!! I am always telling people that it takes an Army to keep one combat soldier on the front, I am hoping this article brings it all into perspective. Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

  38. Another example of putting one foot in front of the other with patient perseverance to do right and one day we wake to incredible happenings. Life is always about choices and this young person is a perfect example for all of us to follow.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. what an amazing journey he took! this speaks to the power of being open to opportunities and taking them! great post –

    Liked by 2 people

  40. Thank you for this very interesting article. Sometimes the army gives, what others never had expected. Skills are so different, and challenges had to be won. Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  41. A wonderful story. It’s good to know of people who made the most of every opportunity to do well for themselves, their family and their country.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Thompson’s story is so encouraging! My husband’s career was the direct result of serving in the military.

    Liked by 2 people

  43. This is an inspiring example of how a person can make their life better by serving in the military. Well done to Mr Thompson, and the US armed forces too. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 4 people

  44. Thank you very much. Wish I could comment on your site, you have some fantastic articles!

    Like

  1. Pingback: You don’t need to be Superman to be a hero — Pacific Paratrooper – Truth Troubles

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