Robert G. Thompson

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Robert G. Thompson
Robert Thompson (left) and Benjamin J. Davis (right) with during the Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders
Leader of the New York Communist Party
Personal details
Born(1915-06-21)June 21, 1915
Grants Pass, Oregon
DiedOctober 16, 1965(1965-10-16) (aged 50)
New York City, New York
Military service
Allegiance Spanish Republic
 United States of America
Branch/service International Brigades
 United States Army
UnitThe "Abraham Lincoln" XV International Brigade
32nd Infantry Division

Robert George Thompson (June 21, 1915 – October 16, 1965) was a distinguished US soldier who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (United States) during World War II but was later jailed for several years for his communist sympathies.


Spanish Civil War[edit]

Thompson's first foray into war was with the Spanish Republicans in the Civil War in Spain against General Franco and the Spanish Nationalists, as a battalion commander with the all-American volunteer Abraham Lincoln Brigade.[1]

World War II[edit]

Following the Spanish Civil War, Thompson saw action during World War II in the Pacific Theater. He was cited for extraordinary heroism during the American New Guinea Campaign, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and was approved for a battlefield commission as an officer.[2] The citation read:

For extraordinary heroism in action near Tarakena, New Guinea, on January 11, 1943. Volunteering to lead a small patrol in an attempt to establish a foothold on the opposite shore, Staff Sergeant Thompson swam the swollen and rapid Konembi River in broad daylight and under heavy enemy fire. Armed only with a pistol and hand grenades, he assisted in towing a rope to the other shore where he remained under cover of the bank and directed the crossing of his platoon. Staff Sergeant Thompson then led the platoon against two enemy machine-gun emplacements which dominated the crossing, and wiped them out. The success of this action permitted the advance of the entire company and secured a bridge-head for the advance of the following units.[2]

Communist Party[edit]

Following the war, Thompson was involved with the leadership of the Communist Party USA, and was convicted in the Foley Square trial, alongside the rest of the party leadership, for violating the Smith Act. He was sentenced to imprisonment for three years. After the Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, he absconded, and for this he was convicted of criminal contempt and ordered to serve an additional four-year sentence.[2] While serving his sentence, Thompson was assaulted by a group of Yugoslav fascists who had jumped ship in the United States, one of whom cracked Thompson's skull with a metal pipe while standing on a lunch line.[1]

Following his release, Thompson continued with the Communist Party, including organizing protests against the Vietnam War.


Thompson suffered a fatal heart attack on October 16, 1965.[1] As controversial in death as in life, after initially granted burial at Arlington National Cemetery, his post-service activities led the Army, under pressure from Congress, to rescind its permission.[2] Subsequently, the Army was ordered by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to permit the interment.[2]


Striking a dissenting chord days after his death, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Murray Kempton wrote:

And so, an American who was brave has been judged and disposed of by Americans who are cowards of the least excusable sort, cowards who have very little to fear. Yesterday the Army called Robert Thompson's widow and said that it would send his ashes wherever she wished. Wherever those ashes go, the glory of America goes with them.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Wald, Alan M. Trinity of Passion: The Literary Left and the Antifascist Crusade. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. P. 20-21.
  2. ^ a b c d e 408 F.2d 154 132 U.S. App. D.C. 351. Sylvia H. THOMPSON, Appellant, v. Clark M. CLIFFORD, as Secretary of Defense, et al., Appellees. No. 20737. United States Court of Appeals-District of Columbia Circuit. The Federal Reported. 2nd Edition. Volume 408 February – April 1969. PublicResource.Org. Retrieved April 25, 2009.
  3. ^ Lippman, Theo, Jr. "Imperishable Prose". Johns Hopkins Magazine. September 2007. Retrieved 25 April 2009.