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Tue, 08.16.1927

William Thompson, Soldier born

William Thompson

*William Thompson was born on this date in 1927.  He was a decorated Black soldier in the United States Army.  

Born in Brooklyn, New York to an unmarried mother, little is known of William Henry Thompson's early life, but he grew up in an impoverished tenement house neighborhood. He dropped out of school at a young age and spent his teen years wandering the streets. A local minister noticed Thompson sleeping in a park one evening and took him to a shelter, the New York Home for Homeless Boys. Thompson remained a resident there until he turned 18 in 1945.  

Thompson enlisted in the army in October 1945, and after basic combat training was assigned to a post in Adak, Alaska. After 18 months, he was honorably discharged from the military, but found adjustment to civilian life difficult and opted to return to the military. In January 1948, Thompson reenlisted and was assigned to the U.S. 6th Infantry Division, which was on occupation duty in South Korea. When the 6th Infantry Division returned to the United States, he was reassigned to the U.S. 24th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 25th Infantry Division which was assigned to the post-World War II occupation of Japan.  

His Military Occupational Specialty was 4812, that of a heavy weapons infantryman who operated automatic weapons.  The 24th Infantry was a segregated unit; Thompson owned his time in the military. Described as "thin, hollow-eyed and quiet,” he viewed military life as one of few places where a Black could enjoy some degree of comfort. He was a very effective soldier, consistently maintaining his uniform, equipment and firearms above requirements. Thompson was also a skilled marksman and rarely had behavioral problems. He was content in the lower ranks of the military, preferring to follow orders instead of giving them.  At the outbreak of the Korean War, Thompson was a private first class, part of M Company of 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, the heavy weapons support company for the battalion.  

On August 6, 1950, as the Battle of Pusan Perimeter was beginning, the 25th Infantry Division was engaged in a counteroffensive near Masan, South Korea during the Battle of Masan. That night, M Company was supporting the division's advance near the city of Haman, South Korea, in a mountain valley south of Sobuk-san. As Thompson's platoon approached the town, it was ambushed by a large force of North Korean People's Army troop.  Automatic weapons fire caused several men in the company to panic and flee. Those remaining were ordered into a tight perimeter by Second Lieutenant Herbert H. Wilson.  After a North Korean grenade knocked out the only other remaining heavy weapons specialist, Thompson manned the last heavy weapon in the platoon: his .30 caliber M1917 Browning machine gun.

Thompson soon became the focus of the North Korean fire. During this period, Thompson was wounded several times but ignored his injuries and did not inform the rest of his unit. After the platoon was ordered to withdraw, Wilson ordered it to higher ground.   Crawling to Thompson's position, Wilson discovered his injuries. Wilson ordered Thompson to withdraw twice, but the latter refused to obey and continued to fire on the advancing North Koreans. Thompson told Wilson "he was dying and was not going to move back". Wilson then called forward two non-commissioned officers, who unsuccessfully attempted to remove Thompson from the gun physically.

Thompson told them, "Get out of here, I'll cover you!" Wilson reluctantly ordered the remaining men to pull back. As the platoon retreated, they heard grenade blasts around Thompson's position, followed by a larger blast, at which point his gun fell silent. He had continued to fire his machine gun until he was killed.  A few days later, when M Company retook the area, they discovered Thompson had made a last stand and killed a large number of North Koreans before dying. He had prevented higher casualties in his unit as it withdrew.  On August 6, 1951, William Thompson recieved the United States military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in the Korean War.

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