Floyd James Thompson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Floyd Thompson" redirects to this page. For the prominent Chicago lawyer, see Floyd Thompson (lawyer).
Floyd James Thompson
LTC Floyd J. Thompson Easter Saturday 1975.jpg
Then LTC Floyd J Thompson, Easter Saturday 1975.
Nickname(s) Jim
Born (1933-07-08)July 8, 1933
Bergenfield, New Jersey, U.S.
Died July 16, 2002(2002-07-16) (aged 69)
Key West, Florida, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1956–1982
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Unit 7th Special Forces Group
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star ribbon.svg Silver Star
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit
Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star
Prisoner of War ribbon.svg Prisoner of War Medal

Floyd James "Jim" Thompson (July 8, 1933 – July 16, 2002) was a United States Army officer and the longest held prisoner of war in United States history, spending nearly nine years in captivity in Vietnam.

Early life[edit]

Jim Thompson was born July 8, 1933, in Bergenfield, New Jersey, as the son of a bus driver. He graduated from Bergenfield High School in 1951.[1] Thompson worked for the A&P supermarket [2]:19 before he was drafted by the United States Army on June 14, 1956.[2]:28 He was at first a very truculent, rebellious soldier, but then decided that he liked the military. After basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he decided to make the military his career.

Military career[edit]

After completing Officer Candidate School,[2]:32 Thompson served stateside and also spent a year in Korea.[2]:37 He was stationed at Fort Bragg when he was recruited into the Army Special Forces as a Green Beret.[2]:41

Vietnam War[edit]

Captain Thompson went to Vietnam in December 1963.[2]:52 Prior to his deployment, he hadn't heard of the country. He was to serve only a six-month tour of duty but was captured on March 26, 1964. He was released on March 16, 1973, 10 days short of 9 years.


On March 26, 1964, an observation plane (an L-19/O-1 Bird Dog) flown by Captain Richard L. Whitesides and Captain Thompson was downed by small arms fire at 16°39′12″N 106°46′21″E / 16.65333°N 106.77250°E / 16.65333; 106.77250, about 20 kilometres from Thompson's Special Forces Camp near Quang Tri, South Vietnam.

Thompson survived the crash, suffering burns, a bullet wound across the cheek and a broken back, and was quickly captured by the Viet Cong. Whitesides was never found. Aerial search and ground patrols failed to find any trace of the aircraft.[2]:94

The following day, an Army officer visited Thompson's home and told his pregnant wife Alyce that he was missing. The trauma sent her into labor and their son was born that evening.

Prisoner of war[edit]

Thompson spent the next nine years as a prisoner of war, first at the hands of the Viet Cong; he was later moved to the Hanoi prison system. During his captivity, he was tortured, starved, and isolated from other US POWs.[3] At one point, Thompson did not speak to another American for over five years. He was released in mid-March 1973 in Operation Homecoming.

Return to the United States[edit]

Thompson was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and then to full Colonel, but had missed the most important years of his military career while in prison. Thompson had no formal military education beyond OCS and hadn't had experience as a Company Commander.[2]:295 He had difficulty adjusting to a vastly changed peacetime Army. In addition, Thompson's marriage had been troubled even before his captivity, and his wife Alyce, believing him dead, was living with another man at the time he was repatriated. He and his wife divorced in 1975. Alyce told author Tom Philpott that she believed prison had affected her husband's mind. She said he suffered from nightmares and was abusive towards both her and the children.[4] Thompson later remarried but divorced soon afterwards. Thompson never formed any kind of a relationship with his children. His daughters were 6, 5 and 4 when he left, and his son was born the day of his capture. Only his eldest child barely remembered him.

Thompson said that one of the things that helped him cope with his brutal imprisonment was thinking of the family that awaited his return. He eventually became completely estranged from all of his children. He developed a very serious drinking problem and was in several military hospitals for treatment.[2]:349 In 1977, Thompson attempted suicide with an overdose of pills and alcohol.[2]:430 His superiors told author Philpott that had it not been for Thompson's status as a hero, he would have been dismissed from service because of his alcoholism. In 1981, while still on active duty, Thompson suffered a massive heart attack and a severe stroke. He was in a coma for months and was left seriously disabled. He was paralyzed on one side and could speak only in brief phrases for the rest of his life. In 1990, Thompson's son Jim was convicted of murder and imprisoned for sixteen years.[5]


The stroke that left Thompson's left side paralyzed[2]:431 and his age contributed to his forced retirement from active duty in the Army. A ceremony was held for him in The Pentagon on January 28, 1982. Thompson received the Distinguished Service Medal in appreciation for his 25 years of service to his country as an Army Officer.[6] Because of his recent stroke, he had a hard time speaking, so Michael Chamowitz, his close friend and lawyer, read his retirement speech.

I am honored to receive this award (the Distinguished Service Medal) today but at the same time I am saddened to be leaving active military service. The Army has been my life and I am proud of each of my twenty-five years of service.
Of those 25 years, I spent nine as prisoner of war. Those days were grim, and survival was a struggle. I was able to withstand that long agony because I never lost my determination to live—no matter how painful that became—because I love my country and never lost faith in her, and because I had dreams of what my life would be like upon my return to America. Those dreams were always, unquestionably, of a life that was Army. I found that the dream of continued service gave me a goal that helped me survive my years as a POW.
After my return from Vietnam, the opportunity to serve became the motivating force in my life. Military service has given me my greatest challenges and my greatest rewards. I have worked hard for sound leadership development in the Army and for realistic training. The greatest problem faced by POWs was fear of the unknown. This fear can be reduced, not only for the potential POW but across the awesome environment of the battlefield, by training which is honest enough to address the real issue of combat and which is tough enough to approximate battlefield conditions.
No, I do not now retire freely—there was much I still wanted to do—but circumstances present me no alternative. I leave active military service because I must. But for the rest of my life, the Army will be no less a part of me, and of what I am, than what it has always been.
Colonel Floyd James Thompson
January 29, 1982[7]

Later years and death[edit]

Thompson moved to Key West in 1981 after being medically retired from the U.S. Army, where he remained active in the community, according to the Monroe County Office of Veterans Affairs. On July 8, 2002, the staff of JIATF (Joint Interagency Task Force) East and some of his close friends threw Thompson a birthday party. He was described as being in high spirits and full of excitement. During the celebration, he quoted General Douglas MacArthur: "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."

Eight days later, Thompson was found dead in his Key West By the Sea Condominium on July 16, 2002, at the age of 69. His body was cremated, and his ashes scattered at sea off the coast of Florida and there is a memorial marker for him at Andersonville National Cemetery.

Military decorations[edit]

In October 1974, Thompson started to receive medals and awards in recognition for his service and sacrifice in Vietnam. South Vietnam was the first to honor Thompson’s service and sacrifice with the country’s highest honor, the Vietnam Military Merit Medal the Vietnamese equivalent to the United States Medal of Honor.[8]

In recognition of his escape from Viet Cong POW camps, Thompson received the Silver Star.[2] For his nine years in captivity, Thompson received the Bronze Star and Legion of Merit. The Bronze Star recognized his continuous resistance to the enemy. The Legion of Merit recognized his suffering for his nine years in captivity.[2]

A ceremony was held on June 24, 1988, in the White House honoring POWs from World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Two representatives were picked from each war to receive the Prisoner of War Medal. Thompson and Everett Alvarez were chosen to represent POWs from Vietnam.[9]


Distinguished Service Medal Silver Star Legion of Merit Bronze Star Prisoner of War Medal Vietnam Service Medal Vietnam Military Merit Medal
Us legion of merit legionnaire.png
Bronze Star Medal Obverse.PNG
Distinguished Service Medal (US Army) ribbon.png
Silver Star ribbon.svg
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg
Bronze Star ribbon.svg
Prisoner of War ribbon.svg
Vietnam Service Medal ribbon.svg
Vietnam Military Merit Ribbon.svg

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "F. J. Thompson, 69, Longtime P.O.W., Dies". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2017-02-15. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Philpott, Tom, at Centreville, VA, Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War (1st ed.), New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company (published May 2001), pp. 324, ISBN 0-393-02012-6
  3. ^ Tom Philpott (2001-04-02). "The Prisoner". The New Yorker. New York City. p. 56. Retrieved 2013-08-28. 
  4. ^ Richard Bernstein (2001-08-02). "The Glory And Tragedy Of a P.O.W. Scorned". New York Times. New York City. p. E1. Retrieved 2013-08-28. 
  5. ^ Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War, « The Thompson family's postwar lives read like a Jerry Springer show, replete with severe alcoholism, spousal abuse, adultery, teenage pregnancy, bitter divorce and the jailing of Thompson's son on a murder charge».
  6. ^ Philpott, Tom, at Centreville, VA, Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War (1st ed.), New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company (published May 2001), pp. 385–386, ISBN 0-393-02012-6
  7. ^ Philpott, Tom, at Centreville, VA, Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War (1st ed.), New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company (published May 2001), pp. 384–385, ISBN 0-393-02012-6
  8. ^ Philpott, Tom, at Centreville, VA, Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War (1st ed.), New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company (published May 2001), pp. 322–323, ISBN 0-393-02012-6
  9. ^ Philpott, Tom, at Centreville, VA, Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War (1st ed.), New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company (published May 2001), pp. 398–400, ISBN 0-393-02012-6

External links[edit]