This was written by my Dad Jeff Thompson:
Vernon Thompson 1st Calvary Division, 5th Regiment, A Troop
Vernon Thompson The following is from a conversation with Vernon while making Lefsa with his wife Bernice, daughter Harriet, her husband Jim, son Jeff and his wife Dawn in December 2004. Also included is information from letters Vernon sent home during WWII. I entered the service in March 1942, three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I had just celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday in January. We traveled by bus from Albert Lea, MN to Fort Des Moines, IA on March 6th for induction and to get clothing and equipment. On March 11th we took a train from Des Moines to Fort Lewis, WA for infantry training. We received about ten different shots, some of the shots made me terribly sick. The Yellow Fever shot was the worst; it made me feel stiff all over. There were 300 tents in our camp. We were assigned six men to a tent. A lot of our time was spent hiking with 30 lb packs and digging foxholes with a pick ax while lying on our sides. Bayonet training was especially hard work. Some days we would practice all afternoon. The rifle we used was a .30 caliber M.I., it was gas operated and held eight rounds in a clip. One day while practicing on the firing range we spotted two deer, they must have been pretty used to us because when we started shooting the machine gun they just looked up and then went right back to eating. Every now and then we would get fresh salmon to eat, which was a real treat. The later part of May we moved to Eureka, CA for more basic training. One evening a civilian and his wife invited a few soldiers, Merle Shurson and I to their residence for supper. We had just about everything you could imagine to eat. After we ate the old man got out his fiddle and played some tunes for us. They were very friendly people and made us feel at home. We would also go down to the U.S.O. and play ping-pong. The U.S.O had a phonograph and radio that was all in one unit, it sure was nice. We started getting forty-six dollars a month now; it really helped since about half our money went for dry cleaning and laundry. We spent a few weeks in Samoa, just across the bay from Eureka. This was a very nice place. There were only two soldiers to a room here, making sleeping much easier. We spent a lot of time on guard duty, patrolling the coast.
On June 26 we traveled south about 220 miles to Santa Rosa, CA. The building we stayed in was about 300 ft. long and housed 800 men. It was a hot box. We hated to leave a nice place like Samoa and come here. About once a week we would have an all night hike. I liked this better than close order drill. Some days we would go on twenty-four mile hikes in full gear, which was very exhausting. On August 5th we moved further south about seventeen miles to Petaluma. We would often go on maneuvers while stationed here. Once we had a simulated battle with the 2nd Battalion. We took over their kitchen figuring if we couldn’t win any other way we would starve out the opposition. We used the little four-wheel drive jeeps a lot here. They climbed the steep hills in this area with ease. We spent the months of September through December 1942 in the San Francisco area. Most of our time was spent on guard duty helping to protect the entrance to the harbor and the Golden Gate Bridge. I was also in the Tomales and Point Reyes Station area, just north of San Francisco. Here we would guard a radio station that received reports from overseas. The fear of invasion by the Japanese turned into a commitment to defend the harbor by every means possible. The Army and Navy built coastal fortifications and used underwater minefields, observation posts and patrol aircraft. Mobile antiaircraft guns, searchlights and radar were positioned on nearly every hill overlooking the Golden Gate. The Navy stretched an antisubmarine net across the inner harbor and stationed a navy tugboat to open and close the net to allow friendly ships to pass. It was fun to watch the anti-aircraft guns practice. A plane would pull a target across the sky and the gunners would hit the target just about every time. We would have about two USO shows a week; some of them were pretty good. Other entertainment we enjoyed was listening to WCCO on a radio they had down at the RCA building. In January 1943 we traveled by train to Miami and Palm Beach, Florida for more training and to guard the bridges in the area. Spies were discovered in rubber rafts along the coast, it was believed they were going to destroy key bridges in the area. My duties here included dispatching and guard duty. We would hear stories about some of the ships that were sunk along the coast by German U-boats. One area along the beach was off limits because it was said so many bodies had washed up on shore. We didn’t see any of this reported in the papers. I was stationed in Florida for about fifteen months. I enjoyed taking pictures with a box camera I had received as a gift from the federal government. Anyone who had the same birthday as Franklin Roosevelt could get one of these cameras. Fortunately I shared the same birthday as Roosevelt, which is January 30th. It took very good pictures. I was disappointed when one day I found the camera had been stolen out of my footlocker. We left Florida in March of 1944 and went to Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi. On April 21, 1944 we traveled back to California to Fort Ord located on the Monterey Bay Peninsula for
embarkation. In San Francisco I boarded the U.S.S Barnstable, a 492’ cargo ship that was converted to a troop and supply carrier for the war. Our ship had the capacity to carry about 1,200 soldiers and officers. As we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge I noticed a sign that read “Under this bridge passes the best damn soldiers in the world”. I would sleep on the deck of the ship because it was so hot. One evening a loud boom awakened me. It turned out our ship had accidentally been struck on the side by an oil tanker. The Barnstable began to take on water and the deck dropped from a distance of twenty feet above the sea to only about five feet from the water. The ship managed to get to Port-Vila in the New Hebrides Islands where we stopped for repairs. From the New Hebrides Islands we went on to New Guinea. This was a base for deployment. While in the states I was assigned to the 144th Infantry Division, in New Guinea I was reassigned to the 1st Calvary Division, 5th regiment, A Troop. There were twenty- nine people in my unit. We stayed here for about a month, I remember the food was terrible. To pass the time I would use a file and punch to make jewelry out of silver coins. U.S.S. Barnstable – troop & cargo carrier (commissioned 5/22/44) Jewelry filed from coins in New Guinea. One of the major campaigns of World War II was in the Philippines. The Japanese defense plan called for a massive commitment at Leyte to destroy the American fleet and its invading force, it was code named “Sho-1”. The Allies and General MacArthur were trying to gain control of this strategic area Southeast of Japan starting with Leyte. Once Leyte was secure, MacArthur hoped to build airstrips and support future operations. “Leyte was to be the anvil,” he wrote “against which I hoped to hammer the Japanese into submission in the central Philippines — the springboard from which I could proceed to the conquest of Luzon, for the final assault on Japan itself.” I took part in one of the amphibious assaults that took place at Leyte on October 20, 1944. I remember for breakfast that day we had a piece of toast with hamburger gravy. When I asked for a
rifle I was told not to worry because I would find plenty on the beach. We crawled down a rope ladder to the landing barge; there were about twenty soldiers on each barge. U.S. battleships with sixteen-inch guns were bombarding the beach landing areas. From our barge we could here the thunderous roar of the big guns and the shells flying over our head. We hit the beach at 10 am. At first I carried two boxes of ammo, but once we started going through the rice patties I had to drop one. We marched all day then set up camp at night. We set up mortars on the inside of the perimeter. The Japanese tried to attack our camp at night. We would take turns on guard duty, four hours on duty then two hours off. There was not much resistance in the beginning but, the Japanese sent many ground reinforcements to Leyte and a major battle took place. There was also a series of sea battles lasting from October 23 to October 26 in which Japan’s fleet was almost completely destroyed. Our squad received a presidential citation for an outstanding performance of duty during the period from November 29 to December 2, 1944. The Japanese had trapped a group of American soldiers along a trail. Our squad had to march over steep and slippery mountain terrain for eight hours to reach the trapped American soldiers. When we reached the trail we dug fox wholes at dusk while the enemy sniped from very close range. My backpack was hanging in a tree and was shot full of holes. We strung wire across the trails and attached it to hand grenades. The explosions would alert us as to when the Japanese were trying to sneak up on us. The attack resumed the following morning and by nightfall “A” Troop had freed the trapped soldiers. On Christmas Eve 1944 I remember seeing two trees along the side of a trail. The trees were lit up with fireflies making them look like Christmas trees. This was the only time I noticed anything like this while in the Philippines and thought it was a miracle. We would go up into the mountains fighting, the mud was ankle deep so it took two days to get up there. For over two months heavy ground fighting took place in Leyte before the American troops had secured areas necessary for air bases. When we had finished fighting in Leyte we were mistakenly told the war was over and to shoot up all our ammunition. That night Japanese ships tried to land on the island; luckily their ships were sunk. We then took a boat from Leyte to Luzon. While we were camped along a river in Luzon General MacArthur gave us a surprise visit. He drove up to us in a big staff car, got out and walked up and down our lines giving us a pep talk. Immediately after he drove off enemy artillery landed right on the spot where he had stopped. We then proceeded to Wall City just outside of Manila. We shelled this city for about a week. After entering the city we set up our machine gun in a sweepstake building (gambling casino). While in the building my ammunition carrier did not want to leave and get food so I said I would go. Before leaving the building I set my helmet on a sand bag. When I got back they were carrying out my ammunition carrier who had gotten shot. I found my helmet still sitting on the sand bag with a
hole shot through it. My assistant gunner was so frightened after this he could hardly move and had to go back to camp. One soldier sold his rifle for whiskey. He emptied the water from both his canteens and filled them with whisky. He drank too much one night and fell asleep on the cold cement floor in a brewery. When he woke up in the morning he was paralyzed and we never saw him again. He was one of the nicest guys I had ever met. We finally started taking this city one building at a time. I remember putting a hand grenade on a long stick and putting it up on the next floor above us to clear the building. It took about two weeks to take Wall City. We originally had twenty-seven soldiers in our troop. After capturing Wall City our troop had only eight soldiers remaining. Some soldiers went from private to 1st sergeant in a very short time. We then went on to help the 12th Calvary. We would go out on patrol and then return to rest camp for about two weeks before going back on patrol again. It rained so much my foxhole would fill up with water. I would sit on my helmet to try to get out of the water. On September 9th the Japanese formally surrendered aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Prior to this we were practicing amphibious landings as we were scheduled to be some of the first soldiers to attack Tokyo in November. Japan’s surrender was very welcome news as we were told our casualty rates would be as high as ninety percent. I was in a hospital in Luzon with yellow jaundice for a short time. Another soldier and I hitched a ride on a B24 airplane to Okinawa. It was not pressurized so it was very cold. We then took a C54 from Okinawa to Tokyo. In Tokyo I boarded a streetcar to find my outfit. I traveled on a train through Nagasaki. This was about three months after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima (Aug 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (Aug 9, 1945). Everything was black and burned for miles. I spent about two months in Japan on guard and patrol duty. Japanese planes were all destroyed as they were bulldozed into huge piles. The Japanese people where very cooperative during this time. In November of 1945 we took a ship back to the states landing in Seattle. I was given the choice of keeping a rifle or saber. I chose the saber. There was lots of good food to eat and the atmosphere was very festive. Japanese Saber There were many times during the war when I could have been wounded or killed. One close call I had was in Leyte when we were setting up our machine gun. I was in front of the gun when the assistant gunner accidentally pulled the trigger and the bullets just missed my leg. I carried a Service Prayer Book in my backpack throughout the war, which I feel was my guardian angel that helped me survive the war.
I also had four brothers who served in WWII, Jimmy, George, Elvern and Harold. Jimmy, George and Harold were also in the Philippines. Jimmy was wounded in the neck by a sniper. Harold was struck in the neck by shrapnel from a hand grenade and was carried on a stretcher to safety. Harold and George once saw each other while they were in the Philippines. Elvern served in France. My sister Mae’s husband Harry served in the Navy. My sister Clarece’s husband Ben served in the Army. Our mother died about a year after we all returned from the war. Before the war I traveled to Los Angeles, CA to work in a defense plant. Bud Kjonas, my brother Orville and his wife Wenifred went also. My sister Alice let us borrow her car since my Model A Ford had burned just before we were ready to depart. Immediately after the war I attended Dunwoody for eighteen months learning automotive bodywork. I stayed with my sister Alice in Minneapolis during this time. Alice owned beauty shops in Minneapolis and in Ellendale. After school I operated an automotive repair shop in Hartland for a short time before opening a garage in New Richland in 1949. The cost for basic service of a vehicle was one dollar (checking oil, radiator, tire pressure, etc). My brother Harold and I moved to a new location in New Richland in 1950 and started a partnership named Thompson Body Shop. We had a successful business performing all types of auto bodywork including collision repair, painting, wheel alignment and windshield replacement. My brother George also worked with us for a number of years repairing television sets. I married Bernice Kofstad in 1950 and have two children, Harriet and Jeff. I retired from the body shop in 1984. Harold’s sons Mitch and Mike still operate the shop at this location.
Service Record: -1st Calvary Division, 5th Regiment, A Troop -Length of Service: Continental – 2 yrs / 4 months / 18 days Overseas – 1 yr / 4 months / 12 days -Basic Training – Private – 2 months -Rifleman – Private – 26 months -Machine Gunner Light – Sergeant – 17 months -Distinguished Unit Badge – Presidential Citation – Leyte – 11/29-12/2/44 -Arrow – Beach Head Landing – Leyte – 10/20/44 -Combat Infantryman Badge -Rifle Marksman Carbine SS -Good Conduct Medal -Asiatic Pacific Theater Service Medal -Philippine Liberation Ribbon -American Theatre Service Medal -Two Overseas Service Bars -ASR Score (2 Sep 45) – 76 -One lapel button issued -Battles and Campaigns: Bismark Archipelago, New Guinea, South Philippines, Luzon
Jason Thompson received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Law & Society from Winona State University where he studied U.S.-Mongolian Foreign Relations 1860-1920. He also attended programs at Hennepin Technical College in Minnesota, Soonchunhyang University in the Republic of Korea and at the University for Peace in Costa Rica. He has a Master of Arts degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he focused on climate control and high-energy x-ray applications. Jason has wrote for Diesel Power and The Costa Rica News.
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