Interview by John Mark Tichar

Conversation with George Thompson/WW II Navy Pilot/Beachwood, Ohio

G:  I was at Notre Dame working on my thesis, and I had the radio on when I heard FDR’s voice saying that we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor.  That was December 7.  On December 5, two days before, I had signed up with a traveling Navy recruitment unit for pilot training, so I signed up 2 days before Pearl Harbor and got in a little early.

JM:  Why did you sign up?  Were you just interested in going into the Navy?

G:  Not to sound like I wanted to be a hero, but I didn’t want to be a grunt.  I didn’t want to be in the Army in the trenches, that wasn’t too appealing.  I didn’t want to be in the Marines, thought maybe flying would be nice, probably figured the food would be better also.  I had never been near an airplane, not within 300 yards, but it appealed to me.  I was about 23 at the time.  I look the same now as I did then if you were going to ask.  I got into the Navy training program at Lake Poncletrain, near New Orleans.  I started to fly in bi-winged planes; in my career I flew 6 different kinds of planes.  It was very, very difficult at the time.  I was kind of a dummy in math, and I had a real problem.  We had ground school before we got near an airplane, and I was a real dummy on celestial navigation, anything involving math.  I got some other guys to help me out and that’s how I got through ground school.  Ground school lasted about 6 weeks.  When it was time to fly, they assigned you to an instructor and I started to fly for about 4 weeks and wasn’t doing too well.  I trusted my depth perception too much and the instructor told me, “Thompson, you’re allowing yourself too little space when you’re going over fences and that kind of stuff.”  I got down-checks twice and was about ready to be thrown out, so I got the opportunity to appear before the board to tell them why I thought they needed me, which they really didn’t.  Anyway, the board gave me extra time and I did get an up-check and I soloed.  That was at New Orleans.  Then the next training was at Pensacola where I started to fly more advanced planes, single-wing planes.  The Army had the same kind of planes, the SM Jerry, the Kingfisher, others.  The first fighter I flew was the F2A, the Brewster Buffalo, it was a terrible plane, and I racked one up while I was there.  I was going down the runway and the left landing gear collapsed.  I went spinning down the runway on takeoff.  I went before the board of inquiry, they got me up there and tried to insist that I hit the up button too soon, that the plane wasn’t ready, which was a bunch of barf.  Anyway, they finally gave in, and I flew the F2A for 6 or 8 hops.  In the F2A you are being trained in aerial gunnery and field carrier landings.  Before you made any carrier landings, they would paint the outline of a carrier deck on a big concrete apron, and they had a landing signal there, you’d learn to follow the signal guy.  In gunnery, every now and then it would be your turn to tow a big sleeve behind your plane and another pilot would make a run on the sleeve and fire.  Each pilot’s bullets were painted a different color so when he ran, we’d drop the tow and look at the sleeve to count the holes.  The first time I made a real carrier landing was at Norfolk Virginia.  People would ask me if I was scared, and I’d tell them only the people at the laundry knew and they promised not to tell.  I made 7 carrier landings, on the first one; they’d call you on the radio and say, “Prepare to come aboard.”  This was my appointment as a Naval aviator.

M:  Were you alone in the plane?

G:  Yeah, I flew fighters which were single seaters.  When they said “Prepare to come aboard”, I looked down and thought, yeah, but where?  The thing looked like a matchbox.  I got through that part OK, and then I was assigned to a regular naval squadron, down at Cape May, NJ.  This was a fighter group.

M:  How fast and what kind of plane were you flying when you did your first landing?

G:  My first landing was an SNJ, single wing trainer.  They went about 180-200 knots.  These were just trainer planes.  The Navy is divided up into fighter squadrons, with 22 fighter pilots in ours. I was in squadron #30 at Cape May.  We were the 3rd squadron to get a new plane the Navy had, you’ve probably heard of it, the Hellcat from Drummond.    The training took 9 months and they said at that time it cost $100,000, and the planes cost about $250,000.  The F6F was a terrific plane, that’s the Hellcat.  I spent part of my term with another guy who got some temporary duty, I was assistant engineering officer, and each pilot had a different job also.  I was assigned to the Grummond plant where the plane was built.  We went through the entire process, we followed a plane from blueprint until the final deal so we got to know the plane and what it’s capabilities were.  The Hellcat, when fully loaded with ammunition and so forth, weighed 14,000 pounds and had a 2000 horsepower engine and could go 350 mph.  It was a heck of a great plane.

M:  So, how are these books you’re going to show us organized?

G:  They’re organized by squadron; I was with two different squadrons.  I was 3 years in the Pacific.  First squadron was in 1943, it was called Air Group 30, had 22 fighter pilots and we were assigned to a brand new carrier called the Monterey.  They take a new carrier on a ‘shake down’ cruise to see if there were any bugs in it.  We went aboard with our planes and took it on a shake down cruise to Venezuela.  It was built on the hull of a light cruiser.  They put 3 or 4 light cruisers in the ways, and then they decided it was going to be carrier warfare in the Pacific so they converted them to carriers.  The Monterey was very fast, it could do 32 knots.

These are dog tags; they have your blood type, your serial number.

Here is a picture of me in New Orleans with a buddy of mine.  We were cadets, cadets wore white uniforms.

Here is a picture of me at Pensacola, here’s me taking a nap.

This is the F2A, the Brewster Buffalo, first fighter I flew, two pictures of it.  It was a terrible airplane, stubby and ungraceful and underpowered.  The standing gag about it was that if you lost the use of the prop you had the gliding characteristics of a freely falling safe.

This is a picture of a Hellcat aboard a carrier.  It was a beautiful plane.  It had 3 machine guns in each wing, and each gun carried 400 rounds of 50 caliber ammunition, 2400 rounds.  You could fire those 2 at a time 3 at a time or 4 at a time.  The landing gear was retractable.  It had armor plate at your back and front.

M:  These types of flights, you’re talking about other people and other planes?

G:  The purpose of this plane is a fighter and it could also carry rockets and bombs, the biggest was 500 pounds. But the basic purpose of a fighter plane was to engage enemy fighters, number 1, number 2 to go in and strafe targets and number 3 to act as protection for other planes, like field bombers and dive bombers.  You’d escort them to the target to keep enemy planes away from them.

This picture is when I got my wings.

This was an ad that came out during the war.  I thought it was interesting to have an ad about the Hellcat.  This goes back 50 years.

This was taken aboard a carrier, fighting squadron #30.  I’m the one with the worried look on my face.  This was 1943, the war started in 1941.

JM:  What is this?  This says “fighting squadron 30” tactics memo

G:  Tactics, etc., what to use against enemy fighters.  This came from headquarters and we’d all have to read this and know it by heart.

Some pictures from when we crossed the International Date Line.  They have a ceremony when you cross this, Golden Dragon – Navy tradition.

Each pilot was provided with a number so if you were shot down and whoever found you could notify headquarters, they would get $2000 in gold for returning you.  The number was on file at headquarters, and that way they’d know who you were.

Picture of me and my buddies just before we went to the Pacific, air group 30, in San Francisco, pictures of me in the Pacific.

Aerial comparison of the Zero, Zero could dive faster than the Hellcat.  What they discovered at Kiskie, you may have heard of this in the Aleutians, they found a Japanese plane on its back along the shore.  They took it to Ana Costa Washington and repaired it and tested it in a variety of ways to try to develop tactics against it.  It was faster in a dive but we were told that in a very steep dive the Zero had trouble making a turn to the right.  So we practiced going down in a dive and fake a turn to the left then you went to the right and they couldn’t follow you and you could kick right back onto their tail.

This picture is the first combat hop that I had, I don’t know if you know Tarara (M: My dad fought there, my dad survived Tarara) Tarara was terrible casualties.  (M:  My dad said 90% of the Japanese were killed and 70% of the Americans)  There was bad intelligence; they were hung up on the reefs.  This was my first combat hop, I bombed this island, and my role there was to strafe.  (M:  My dad said they bombed this for 3 days, said they thought they’d walk in 3 hours and be able to take over, but he said it was terrible)  It was terrible.  I strafed a big TBY plant (?), along the beach etc.

We had a gun camera on each of the wings.  The camera recorded what you were shooting at.

This is a friend of mine shooting at this plane, that was the first explosion, then it blew up, this is the second shot.  He shot at the Zero and got it recorded on the film.

This was a terrible way to spend Christmas, fellas, I’ll tell you, December 25, 1943.  I flew wing, we flew in groups of four, on this guy, Chip Redding.  This was the day that we shot down a Japanese Betty, torpedo plane while we were on combat air patrol.  Combat air patrol is when you’re above the task force.  You spent 1 hour at 10,000 feet, 1 at 20,000 and 1 at 30,000, then people kept alternating.  We were up about 20,000 feet when the ships radar picked up a bogie, an enemy plane, a snooper.  We vectored out on it and shot it down and when we came back aboard they took our picture and the captain made an announcement that we had done that.  This, what we’re carrying is our plotting board.  We always worked our own navigation and entered it into target and intercepted the task force.  There was only 1 person on the plane so we had to keep track of our entire course.  That’s a navigation board which slid under the instrument panel.  We also had an oxygen mask that we carried, a flashlight, 45 pistols, and parachute, dye markers so if you went down in the ocean, you could spread the dye, orange.  No one really believed it worked but we also carried shark repellent.  It was supposed to be something the sharks didn’t like, but no one really believed it worked.  There were a lot of sharks.  The first squadron I was in on the Monterrey, Jerry Ford was aboard, and he was jock from the U of Michigan.  He was the athletics officer, they’d set up a basketball hoop on the hanger deck.

This is a place called Majora, an atoll.  It was too large that you could get the entire task force in there.  The task force consisted of 2 or 3 carriers, 2 or 3 battle wagons, 5 cruisers and maybe 12 destroyers.  They would go out and form a ring around the carriers.  I made 143 carrier landings; I had 1200 hours in the air.  The first tour of duty I was on was about 9 months.  The second was maybe 5-6 months.  The length was based on the strategic situation.

These are all Jap targets that I strafed.

M:  Were most of the 143, how many of these flights did you engage others, was each one straffing or what were the circumstances that you’d be flying?

G:  You get a target in the ready room before a combat hop.  They had a big board up front, and they’d show the target area, the distance and the course and the interception course to meet the carrier when you came back.  Most of the time we attacked enemy islands, for example Siapan and the Marshalls were a couple.   We had to know all the signal flags.

This was a little party for air group 30 when we were relieved of duty.  Out of the first group of 22, we probably had 8 survive.  The second carrier we were on was the Yorktown.  There we probably had 20 out of 42.  It was a much larger carrier, it had 2800 people aboard.  I was on the Monterey about 9 10 months.  I got an air medal for shooting down the Betty.

This is when we came back to the States.  This is the admiral of the base, I don’t remember his name and he doesn’t remember mine.  When I came back from this squadron, I got leave and Eileen and I got married, August 5, 1944 in Cleveland.  So that’s the first squadron.

We were the third squadron to get the Hellcat.  In the interim they had improved it.  The first one I flew was the F6F3; the new one was the F6F5, which had a supercharger so you could get emergency power by shoving the throttle all the way forward.  It also had water injection that injected a very thin spray of water into the carburetor, if you were in a real jam and couldn’t get guys off your tail and dove for the deck, it didn’t do the engine any good, but got you out of the jam.  When you got back to the ship you had to change the engine.  The second tour I was on I could have flown the Gull Wing Corsair.  I put thumbs down on it because it had a long nose and a real disadvantage on coming around to pick up the signal officer, that nose blocked him out.  The Hellcat had a shorter nose and you could pick him up right away.

The next squadron was called VF88, and after Eileen and I got married, I was assigned to this new squadron down at Atlantic City.  Then we went from there to Cape Cod to learn tactics etc.  This was kind of dumb in a way because when we were at Cape Cod, there were times when it was below zero.  We were being trained to go back to the Pacific in zero weather.  I’ve got pictures showing the planes covered in snow.  This was our squadron insignia, aces and eights.  This was called a dead man’s hand. Our skipper was from S. Carolina and this is where we adapted the game cocks for our slogan.  We sewed these logos on our jackets; Commander Dick Crommelin was one of four brothers who were current Navy fighter pilots.  This is the skipper of our new squadron, Crommelin again.  This is a picture of the torpedo bombers, the fighter pilots and dive bombers all combined.  There we are in Atlantic City.  These planes could fold their wings after they landed on a carrier and then taxied your plane forward then took it below on an elevator.  These are shots of how the planes are lined up.  You had to have all the planes lined up and ready to go because of launching time.  Here’s counting the bullet holes in the sleeve to see how many you shot.  Here they are loading the wings with ammunition.  We tried to exercise as much as we could, play football, etc.  This is a shot of Eileen and I on Cape Cod.  We got a house to rent during the winter, and our 1934 Buick.  Before you shut the plane engine off after we landed in the cold is that we’d put oil into the ignition so the next day the plane would turn over easier. The Navy pilots really hated night carrier landings.  In January I had to go out at night and make 6 or 7 landings.  It’s really tough because your depth perception gets fouled up.  You could see the lights along the top of the carrier but you could only see them from the air, a Nazi sub could be along side, but they couldn’t see the lights.  You had to do this to keep up your ability.  We lost 4 pilots at Cape Cod, 3 in one night on a tactics mission, they never came back.  If they don’t come back they obviously went down, we call the Coast Guard, but didn’t find them.  They guessed they got vertigo, they think they’re flying level, they look at the instruments but trust their instincts and that’s bad.  One of the instruments we had was a display board and it had a little plane on it and the horizon.  If you kept the plane level, you’re OK; sometimes it’s hard to get on that if you’re going very fast.  We were at Cape Cod for about 4 months for training.

Here we are at Hilo Hawaii.  Three other guys and I flew formation, step down formation.  It was tough flying it was pretty tight.  These are the guys in my wing; they all survived the war but are all dead now.  You generally never flew the same plane, but here’s a picture of me in the air.  It was against the regulations, but I had one of these guys take my camera and he shot this picture.  It’s the only one I have of me.  Here’s a picture of the squadron in Hawaii.  See my pilot boots?  I had them made to order for $30 when we were in Cape Cod.  I still have them.

M:  Did you ever see the movie “Top Gun”?

G:  With Tom Cruise?  Yeah, I thought there was a lot of hokum in it.  For example, you don’t chew out your instructor.  He was a hot shot, but you wouldn’t do that, you’d be on your butt out of there.

There were 3 kinds of planes on board a carrier, fighters had one guy in the plane, dive bombers had 2, and their job was to drop from 4000 feet, at a 70 degree angle, dropped the bomb and got out.  The torpedo plane carried a torpedo underneath, and had a crew of 3, a pilot, a torpedo man and a gunner.  Those were the three kinds of planes.

M:  Which of the three had the highest casualties?

G:  I’d say the torpedo bombers then the dive bombers.  The torpedo bombers to be successful had to get down to the water and keep the same altitude till they dropped the torpedo then really take off.  They were sitting ducks.  I think it was the hornet; there was a flight of 12 and only one guy survived.  A guy named Ensign Gay, he was shot down and saw the action while floating.

This is part of a Jap zero.  When I was on Saipan we flew to Guam then we picked up some fighters and flew them back to Saipan.  I went up into the hills to a wrecked zero, it was pretty well picked over so all I got was part of the tail.  This kind of material was very light and that’s why the Japs were so maneuverable.  The Japs weren’t good on armor plate so we could shoot their pilots easier.

This is a shot of                  it was a beautiful ship.  The first            was sunk at the Battle of Midway.  When we were at Atlantic City, we were trained to go aboard the second               .I was aboard the second which was called the Fighting Lady.  They made a movie about it.  This is an aerial view.  After the war we had a reunion and the Air Combat Intelligence Officer came with two big suitcases stuffed with pictures which weren’t secret any more so he laid out this stuff and the guys went through it and picked out what they wanted.  See the wind direction of the flag?  You always took off and landed into the wind.  The carrier would turn so it was into the wind.  The more wind the easier it was to take off and land.  This guy just landed, see, his flaps are still down.  These 2 people running out are to disengage the hook/wire from the plane.  You come in, follow the ‘hook sign’ signal – you had to trust this guy and follow his direction.  After he unhooks it you taxi forward, they fold the wings and put the plane away.  If you miss the first 12 wires, they have a barrier, big thick cable, to crash into and keep you from going over the end.  It saved the pilot but wrecked the engine.  If the plane was too badly damaged, they’d get 8-10 guys and shove it over the side.

Here is a shot of the carrier deck.  The deck was made of wood with slots to carry away the rain.  Metal would have made it too slippery.  Six guys from my first squadron came to my second squadron, so we were in two squadrons together.  We stayed in touch with the other 2 guys for a while.

This is a friend of mine who lives in California.  RR is on all the Yorktown planes so you could identify them.  He came back from one of his strikes with part of his tail shot off.  This was a Jap light cruiser called the Iota.  We caught the last of the Jap fleet in the Inland Sea; I made a dive on this ship with a 500 pound bomb and got a hit.  I got this for the hit, “Presented for extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight in the vicinity of Honshu Japan on the 24th of July 1945, scored a heavy bomb hit on enemy light cruiser, causing considerable damage.  His skillful airmanship on this occasion was in keeping with the highest traditions of the UNS.”  Here are the Admiral’s orders giving me the Distinguished Flying Cross.   Here’s something, Lt. JG Thompson made a 60 degree dive at 330 knots, dropping his bomb at 4000 ft. on the Iota and scoring a hit about 40 feet from the bow.  Someone wrote that up, I don’t know where that came from.  Here are other guys getting medals the same day.

Here’s a false article, there was a rumor that Japan had surrendered, but they hadn’t surrendered yet.  The guys were impromptu in their celebration.  Some of these guys were later killed.  We had two chaplains aboard, a Protestant and a Catholic.

When the Japanese signed the peace aboard the Missouri we rounded up 3000 planes and all flew over the Missouri to let them know in a kindly way that we still had some punch left.  After that I went ashore in Tokyo Bay, they assigned us to shore patrol duty.  We’d go in groups of 4, carrying .45s.  I didn’t know what to expect when we went ashore.  We never had an incident.  I picked up all this Japanese currency.  An interesting thing, after the Japs surrendered, part of the surrender terms was that we had to load up in the parachute department – you know how kids would throw a little parachute up and have a weight on the bottom so it would come down – well they prepared things like that with a little bag.  I stuffed mine with candy and shaving equipment, so I’d fly low over the Japanese prison camps and drop them.  The Japanese were instructed to identify all the prison camps so we’d fly over low and slow and drop these.  The guys would all come running out to get them.

JM:  Did you ever fly over Camp O’Donnell

G:  No, that’s in the Philippines wasn’t it?  See if you can see the PW on some of these buildings.  It’s that one there.  You know, you wanted to cry, these guys are pitiful.  These are our guys.  This was a couple of days after the peace was signed and the Japs had to identify with great big PW letters so we could drop all kinds of stuff.  We sent medical teams in to the camps; the guys were in terrible shape, all skin and bones.  Gen. Wainright from Corrigador was one of them.  On the last day of the war my group and I were assigned to attack Suji airfield.  As I was flying in, when I almost reached the airfield, I got a message to return to base, “Hostilities have ceased”, and to jettison the bombs I was carrying.  I turned around, dropped the bombs in the ocean and came back aboard.  There were 3 or 4 guys who decided they wouldn’t acknowledge this right away and they were jumped by about 15 of the new Jap fighters, and 3 of the guys were shot down, they were technically shot down when the war was over.  On the way back to the states, we stopped at Okinawa and picked up 500 Marines and they bivouacked on the hanger deck and we took them back to the States.

When we were in Tokyo Bay, this guy who flew with me was a good artist he made this sketch. This was a souvenir from Tokyo Bay.  These were friends of mine, pictures taken in Japan after the war.  They gave us box lunches to take ashore with us when we had shore patrol duty, when we got ashore, these kids 12-14 would follow us, so we’d eat part of our sandwich and leave the rest there and the kids would dive in to get the sandwiches.

This was MacArthur’s headquarters.  You can see in the background, Tokyo was absolutely destroyed.

This card has my ID number in about 7 different languages.  I thought this would be a great thing to save.

After this, we came back to the States and I spent one more year in the Navy in Philadelphia while I hunted for a civilian job.  I was in charge of the Material Identification Unit.  My job was to make sure the necessary supplies went out to the Navy and to the first atomic bomb test operation Crossroads.  Our job was to make sure that parts got there.  Then I got a job at General Electric in the publicity department and then came out to Cleveland.  I was in close to five years.

M:  When you think back on that whole experience, obviously it shaped you quite a bit.

G:  Every two years we have a reunion, different places, we did that for many, many years.  The guys are getting too long in the tooth now, so we talk to each other by phone, we keep in touch to some degree.

M:  How did you handle 8 out of 22 guys survived the first round-a lot of guys you knew died.  Did you just keep going, you couldn’t think about it too much?

G:  There was so much to do, people asked, ‘were you scared and that’, what you do, you knew you had a job to do and there were probably 40-50 things you had to do in that cockpit, it’s amazing the number of things you were intent on doing, you didn’t have time to be scared and you just concentrated on doing your job as best you could.  We had some guys who fancied themselves as hot shots.  For example, when we were training in Hawaii, there are two volcanoes on that island, Monaloa and Monakia, two of my guys wanted to dive down below the tops of the volcanoes.  I said no way guys, I’m working on becoming the oldest living Navy pilot, and I don’t know what you’re working on.  I wouldn’t do that.  The word chicken was used at one point, but I really went by the book.  I was not a sensational pilot, I was an average pilot, some guys had a feeling of being at one with the plane, they were instinctively great, and I was not an instinctively good pilot.  So, the fact that I got in and out twice, I thought means something.  I learned to do the job OK, but nothing sensational.

M:  How do you size up the military today?

G:  I think people are more cynical today about patriotism.  When I was in most of us honestly felt that the country and allies were in real danger from Hitler and the Japanese, the Italians.  We honestly believed that if we didn’t do something it’d be bad and there was even the possibility that Hawaii could have been invaded.  As a matter of fact, there was one Jap admiral who was overruled, he wanted the original attack group to have several transports of troops and if that had ever happened, it would have been no show at all, they’d have pounded us into the dust.  We were very fortunate that they didn’t land troops.  We were helpless, 3000 guys killed, planes and ships destroyed, bombs, and we were really hit hard.  Back then patriotism wasn’t considered a big deal, everyone got behind the effort.  I think now we do have a lot of patriotic people but we have splinter groups that we couldn’t count on, just my opinion.  The five years I spent in the Navy, if I hadn’t gone in, I probably could have become president of General Electric.  Five years out of your life, you loose five years towards attaining your goals, it’s hard to make up.  I wanted to be a writer, I eventually became a writer.

M:  Were there any takeaways from those years?  Anything positive you got from this, added to your writing?

G:  There was that.  I did some writing while I was in the Navy.  They had me as squadron information officer and I did some writing about different things, the history of the squadron and that kind of stuff.  I never really got too far away from writing.  Until recently I wrote a column for the Chagrin Valley Country Club.  3 girls gave me something I really treasure.  For some reason, they saved all my columns and this Christmas they presented me with a book with all my columns, 10 years worth, in there.  I really treasure it.  I don’t know why anyone would want to save them.  I figured some people were using it for the bottom of their bird cage.

JM:  You said you were on shore patrol, was that to make sure nothing went wrong, just to go into the country and be there?

G:  We were anchored in Tokyo Bay and couldn’t do any flying so they figured since pilots were spoiled we needed something to do.  When we were in the combat zone, they got us up around 4:30; take the blankets off if you looked like you weren’t going to get up, then most of the time we flew off pre dawn.  We went to the head of the line in mess, in front of the ship’s officers; we ate well, steak & eggs.  There were 3 places on the carrier where there was air conditioning:  The Captain’s quarters, sick bay and pilot’s ready room.  We were treated that way I guess because they wanted to keep us in good shape and we were considered valuable.  Every now and then, one of the ship’s officers would try to buddy up to you so he could be invited into the air conditioning.  It was a rewarding experience in many ways.  One thing it did teach you was the value of discipline.  You couldn’t take off and do whatever you wanted or your mission would be a failure.  There were so many things you had to watch out for.  I guess I ended up with 1200 flying hours.  Some of my takeoffs were catapult shots-like a slingshot.  The plane is positioned, the sling is attached and boom!  Once they attached the sling, they had a guy standing by and he gave you the signal.  You’d stand on the brakes, gave it full power, the whole plane was trembling, and then you’d give them the signal to cut you loose.  If you sneezed at the wrong time, you’re dead.

JM:  How did the people in Japan treat you?

G:  I was astounded.  They were 100% docile, completely whipped.  They made no hostile moves, and to my knowledge made no hostile moves to any of the other pilots who did shore patrol In fact, they would go out of their way to show respect.  We had to ride one of their trains out to the end of the line and ride it back, and when we got aboard the train, it was jammed; they pushed each other and made a big clear area where we could stand.  They were pushing other back to get as far away from us as possible, they wanted to give us room.  There was fear too.  They looked like they’d been starved, especially the kids.  Some of the more enterprising Japanese would sit out alongside the curb and sell things.

The Yorktown is permanently moored in S. Carolina as a tourist attraction and exhibit.  It’s in sand, not floating; I took Eileen aboard about 8 years ago and showed her the ready room, my stateroom and all that.  She really got a big kick out of that.  If you ever get there, get a tour of Yorktown.  On the hanger deck, they have a bronze tablet with the names of all the pilots, including mine.  It’s at Patriot’s Point.  Here’s a picture of how it’s parked down there.  This is the aviators’ flight log book.  It has every flight I ever took, length of the flight, # of the machine, registration # of the plane and the type of plane.  After you landed the plane captain jotted down this info, you had to give him a report on the condition of the plane, oil temp, etc., he’d make those notes and then they’d service the plane immediately.  There was a guy in each squadron who was in charge of making these notations.  The plane captain had to make sure your info got to this guy.  I have one other thing-John Mark, here is a ……I have one and now you do too.   The CD10 is the Yorktown number.  There’s probably no one else in the state of Ohio who has one of these.

JM:  I’m reading a book called the “Ghost Soldiers”  it’s about the raid of Cabantuan, in Manila Bay, under Wainright, it was the most secret operation in the Pacific, they sent 120 Rangers to rescue 4000 prisoners of war.  It talks about the death march from Batan to Corrigedor, 70 miles.  When the Japanese fought the Russians in 1904, they were known for their great treatment of prisoners of war, they were better than the Geneva Convention.  Gen. Hamma wanted to give them more than they need; he was educated in the US and at Oxford.  He was pro West & liked what we were doing and wanted to treat us well.  The other guy got control and treated everyone badly.

G:  It was sickening to read about how unnecessarily brutal without reason.

M:  John Mark wondered why they surrendered; they had bad info thinking they were all going to be killed.

G:  They were running out of ammunition and there was a lot of disease, they were starving.  It would have been suicide.  MacArthur left on a PT boat to Australia.  MacArthur, people in the Navy had a thing against MacArthur.  I can understand why he left, it would have been foolish to stay and be captured, and he would have been valuable as propaganda to the Japanese.  When we were at Tokyo Bay, I told you about the supplies we dropped; I wrote notes in some of mine.  We had 3 Dutch officers come aboard, they looked terrible and they verified everything that was said about their treatment in the camps.  The one thing we worried about was being taken prisoner-word had gotten back and we knew what would face us from those guys.  One time over the island of Noru my plane sputtered, I was up around 7000 ft., and I thought, “Oh, my God”.  I got as far away from the island as I could and called my buddies on the radio and they came over and stayed with me.  What happened is the plane had dual magnetos and they said switch the magnetos back and forth, which I did and the engine started running smoothly again.  But, while I was doing this, I kept thinking, get as far away as possible.

I told you about dropping food, we divided up parts of the country, we knew there were airfields, and we had to inspect every airfield.  The Japs were told to take the propellers off the planes and pile them up in front of the planes.   They had about 2600 planes left, including some old clunkers which they would hang a bomb on and use as kamikazes.  If we’d had to invade Japan we would have lost 1/2 million men.  So we told them to do this so they couldn’t fly.


The interview didn’t reveal anything that really struck me about the experience of war that echoed themes or experiences in the literature that we have read.  My Uncle George didn’t have any heart breaking, devastating stories that struck you in the gut.  He gave an overview of the war, what went on, and where he flew.  The only piece of literature that I can think of that echoes a theme or experience is the ‘Eighth Air Force’, as I will talk about later in this paper.  I can picture my uncle lying on his cot, sleeping, writing a letter or playing cards, waiting for the next time he has to fly or go on a mission.  Maybe another theme can be ‘patriotism’.  People back then seriously felt that something had to be done to prevent the Nazis and the Italians from progressing with their terror.  “Back then patriotism wasn’t considered a big deal, everyone got behind the effort.”  People accepted what was handed to them and did the best they could to make the best of it or fix it.

My Uncle George Thompson was not fighting in the trenches, he was a navy pilot so he didn’t experience any of the gruesome stories like portrayed in the army.  His stories were low key, more interesting facts about the war.  He talked about what island they bombed, their strategies of bombing and fighting other Japanese fighter planes.  He talked a little bit about the prisoners of war, and how they looked when they were bringing them back to the U.S.  A lot of the poems are about army men, and their experiences in the trenches.  The only two poems that came to mind are ‘The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner’ and the ‘Eighth Air Force’.  I think of the first because the ball turret gunner is on a plane and my Uncle George was a pilot.  I think of the second poem because of the title, ‘Eighth Air Force’ and the atmosphere the poem brings.  As I picture the men sitting playing Pitch, counting missions and sleeping, I too can picture my Uncle George back in 1943 lying on his cot, daydreaming about his past missions and his missions to come and his family back home.  He has killed people, shot down planes, and bombed people.  Is it right to call my own uncle a murderer like the poem does?

The stories that seem important to tell are not really stories but comments that my Uncle George makes during the interview.  One of his comments he makes is “you knew you had a job to do and there were probably 40-50 things you had to do in that cockpit, it’s amazing the number of things you were intent on doing, you didn’t have time to be scared and you just concentrated on doing your job as best you could.”  This portrays his era and his generation very well.  They were the type of people who didn’t pout about doing a job or try to get out of things; they were the hard nose worker.  If you had a job, then do it, don’t complain.  I think it is important to talk about his quality, if that’s what you want to call it, because it is very different from today’s era.  People these days are lazy, they complain about a job, back then, people were thankful they had a job and were bringing home some income.  People today try to get out of things, whether it is trouble or work or anything of that nature.  Back then, if a person got in trouble, they would take it, learn from it and move on.  I think that comment portrays that we are much more dependent on things whereas back then, they were much more self efficient.  

My Uncle George also makes another comment about patriotism.  “I think people are more cynical today about patriotism.  When I was in most of us honestly felt that the country and allies were in real danger from Hitler and the Japanese, the Italians.  We honestly believed that if we didn’t do something it’d be bad and there was even the possibility that Hawaii could have been invaded.”  It seems that this is also an important quality or story to tell.  Today we forget about things quickly, and we live in such a fast pace world that we expect things to be accomplished in a certain amount of time.  For example, the war in Iraq, in the first couple months, everyone was happy with what is going on there, now people are freaking out and saying things are going bad.  If we were transported somehow to the 1940’s, how would we react to World War 2 that lasted from 19369 to 1945, a six year war?  I think that people today get a rush when they turn on the television and see coverage on the war in Iraq and have a feeling of patriotism, and want to do something to help out.  But as soon as the television is turned off, they act like nothing happened and the feel of patriotism leaves them as they go on their normal way of life.