Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Glory Denied, the COL Jim Thompson Story

Thanks to Chapter brother Brian Rodriguez for reminding us about COL Jim Thompson.

"The discussions about COL Howard and COL ROWE bring back very special memories. As a point of history who knows the name and story of the longest held POW in U S military history? Hint: It is widely mentioned that a Naval Aviator from Vietnam era held that distinction; but this is not correct. The reality is it was a SF brother, COL Jim Thompson. Held over 5 years in solitary confinement and over 8 years total. If you have not read it, as part of our history, you must read (the book) GLORY DENIED.

From the
POW Network website:THOMPSON, FLOYD JAMES Longest-held American POW - RIP 07/16/2002 Name: Floyd James Thompson
Rank/Branch: CPT/O3 (when captured), US Army Special Forces
Date of Birth: 08 July 1933
Date of Loss: 26 March 1964
Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss
Coordinates: 163912N 1064621E (XD890419)
Status (in 1973): Released POW

Army Special Forces Capt. Floyd "Jim" Thompson was held prisoner of war longer than any other POW in American history, suffering nine years of brutal torture and deprivation in jungle cages and cold prison cells. Yet, he still remains a relatively obscure figure of the Vietnam War.

On March 26, 1964, an L-19 observation plane co-piloted by Thompson was shot down by small arms fire 20 kilometers west of his Special Forces camp at Khe Sanh in the Republic of South Vietnam. Thompson, who suffered a broken back, a bullet wound across the cheek and burns, was captured shortly thereafter by the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong strapped Thompson to a bamboo stretcher and quickly moved him away from the crash site through a maze of jungle trails which led to a series of camps, from which they conducted their attacks on the South Vietnamese.

The Viet Cong provided Thompson with very little medical care, telling him there was nothing wrong with his back. For more than a month, Thompson was unable to care for himself, depending on his captors to keep him alive by feeding him rice gruel, the only food he could keep down. When Thompson inquired about what happened to his pilot, Air Force Capt. Richard L. Whitesides, the Viet Cong told him that Whitesides had been killed.

Whitesides is still listed missing in action. U.S. search planes and ground patrols failed to find any sign of Thompson's downed L-19. No one knew if Thompson or Whitesides were alive or dead.

Thompson began to lose weight rapidly in captivity and then suffered his first attack of malaria. He realized that unless he learned to take care of himself, he would certainly die. He disciplined himself to ignore the and began to wiggle his toes and to stretch his arms and legs. By June, 1964, Thompson had recovered to the point that he could sit and walk.

Soon after, Viet Cong interrogators made him the target of three months of torture that almost killed him. Finally in August, Thompson gave in and signed a propaganda statement saying he was being treated well and praising the strength of communist forces.

It was that same month a young Navy pilot, Lt. (jg) Everett Alvarez was shot down over North Vietnam during a retaliatory raid that later became known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Alvarez's capture was highly publicized by the international press.

As the war continued to escalate and the public became more interested in the plight of U.S. servicemen held captive in Vietnam, Alvarez was presented over and over again as the longest held U.S. prisoner of war. He and a handful of other prominent POWs, mostly aviators, became the symbols of a national campaign to free captured U.S. servicemen.

The American servicemen held captive in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were virtually ignored. They were mostly enlisted men captured on the ground who were being held in primitive bamboo cages and as a result, had no organized command structure within their peers as was developed by American prisoners in North Vietnamese prisons. Although Alvarez topped every Pentagon list of POWs by 1969, there was no mention of Thompson, whose name the Pentagon refused to make public.

In the late 60's, when POW/MIA organizations began engraving the names of America's missing servicemen on bracelets as part of their campaigns to force communist Vietnam to release American prisoners, Thompson's name was never engraved on a bracelet. The POW/MIA organizations had been refused permission from Thompson's wife to put his name on POW/MIA bracelets.

Thompson had left for Vietnam the day after Christmas, 1963, leaving behind Alyce, his wife of nine years, and three daughters -- Pam, 6; Laura, 4; Ruth, 3. He had been in Vietnam less than three months on a six-month temporary assignment from Ft. Bragg, N.C., when he was shot down. The day after he was shot down, an Army officer visited the Thompson home to notify Alyce that her husband was missing in action. The news sent Alyce into labor and she gave birth that evening to the couple's only son.

Alyce, now with a newborn and three more small children to care for and not knowing if her husband was alive or dead, felt overwhelmed. In the beginning, relatives, friends and sympathetic neighbors gave her much needed support. But that slowly dissipated until she was again alone. In the spring of 1965, Alyce sent word to the Army to forward Thompson's allotment checks to an address in Massachusetts belonging to an Army sergeant she had met a year before at the post bowling alley. She gathered her kids and moved in with the sergeant who had just retired to Massachusetts.

Alyce, insisting she needed privacy for the sake of her children, warned the Army never to release Thompson's name to the public. "He went through hell, but I went through hell too," she later claimed. "There are certain things I did I'm not too proud of. But I felt I had to do them for my children and to keep my sanity."

In the meantime, the Viet Cong continued to brutalize Thompson with constant beatings and deprivation. In July 1967, the Viet Cong started Thompson walking, blindfolded, on a long journey up the Ho Chi Minh trail toward North Vietnam. He was kept isolated from other U.S. prisoners.

Upon reaching the eighth POW camp on the trail, his Viet Cong interrogators escalated their torture. They wanted him to sign statements proving that the United State's involvement in Vietnam was criminal and when he refused, his guards beat him with bamboo sticks. They choked him and hung him by his thumbs. They tied his elbows behind his back and hung him from a rafter until he passed out. At night he was tossed into a tiny wooden cage in which he was handcuffed and shackled in leg irons. When he refused to bow to his captors, they denied him food for three days and nights and followed with a "lesson" in bowing. The guards grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head onto the hard earth until he was unconscious.

It wasn't until Thompson was nearly halfway through his captivity that he was confined with other American prisoners. He later made an escape attempt with Lew Meyer, a Navy civilian employee. The Viet Cong captured them within two days. Both men were severely punished for the attempt. Thompson was finally moved to the "Hanoi Hilton" in Hanoi on January 28, 1973.

Two weeks later, Alvarez was released from there in the first group of prisoners to go home. Headlines all over the United States declared that Alvarez, the longest held POW, had finally been released. A month later, the "mystical" Thompson was returned to the United States.

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