June 6th of this year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the day when allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy during WWII. Bath County can be proud that many, many men from here answered the call of duty during the Great War, but one in particular stands out because his name can be found in the history books as one who helped lead the charge during the Normandy invasion. That “one” is James Virgil Thompson, commander of the 358th infantry of the 90th Division of the VII Corps. The 90th Division bore the nickname “Tough Ombres.” Mr. Thompson’s brothers were Ed, Bascom, Banks, Earle, and Arnold(1).From the journals:
“Excuse me, may I have your autograph, Lt Lindbergh?” asked a person in the crowd.
“I am sorry, but I am not Lt. Lindbergh,” responded Lt. Thompson.
Incidents such as this occurred often. Charles A. Lindbergh (an international hero) and Virgil Thompson of Owingsville were men of the same stature and their facial expressions were much the same when they smiled. Lindbergh had just made his historic flight from Garden City, N.J. to an airfield near Paris, France in May of 1927.
Close to that time, Thompson had graduated from West Point as a 2ndLieutenant. Charles Lindbergh had been commissioned a 2ndLieutenant in 1925. The two men were about the same age, looked alike, had that same military bearing, and of course wore army uniforms most of the time.
Lt. Thompson worked his way up through the ranks and it was apparent to those who knew him that he would achieve a high military rank someday. Virgil served in the Philippine Islands, Panama, and other foreign posts as he climbed from rank to rank. Finally, after this country was attacked by the Japanese, war was declared by the United States against the Axis powers.
Lt. Thompson became Colonel (Bird Colonel) Virgil Thompson and was a regimental commander. He led his troops on the beaches of Normandy and was wounded by several machine gun slugs in the abdomen (2) For many days, it was feared that Virgil would not make it. Colonel Thompson did recover and returned to the ‘States’ where he was discharged. He remained as a civilian for a short time, then went back on active duty.
Colonel Thompson was promoted to Brigadier General and went to Korea as an advisor to the South Korean military. There is no doubt among his friends that Virgil would have risen to perhaps the rank of a Four Star General if he had not been badly wounded in France.
While at West Point, Virgil had the distinct honor of leading the “Army Mule” at an Army-Navy football game. This was an honor bestowed upon only the top men in the academy.
Bath Countians saw Virgil on the “Pathe” news at the Majestic Theatre. Later, a movie starring Richard Dix entitled ‘The Quarterback’ was shown at the local theatre. The shot of Cadet Thompson leading the mule was cut from the “Pathe” (3) news and inserted in the movie The Quarterback.
Brigadier General Virgil Thompson was a great Bath Countian and American who gave his best for his country.
Virgil seemed to enjoy visiting with people from all walks of life when he would return home on leave. In the summer when Virgil was at home, he would chat with the boys in the Court House yard and seemed to enjoy it immensely.
(1) Captain Arnold Thompson, a recipient of both the Bronze and Silver Star prior to his death, was killed in Germany during WWII. At one point he served under General Patton.
(2) In his book Hanging Sam: A Biography of General Samuel T. Williams, Harold Myer includes this description of the fighting at Pont l’ Abbe, France: “The 358thInfantry continued its attack on Pont l’ Abbe with the plan of eventually pushing on to occupy the high ground beyond the town. . . The 358th Infantry encountered severe resistance in its sector and was forced to engage the enemy in hedgerow to hedgerow combat.”
(3) Pathé news produced and distributed cinema newsreels.
If you want to read more about Virgil Thompson and his role in the Normandy Invasion, I would suggest searching for “Col. James V. Thompson.” My good friend Harvey Thompson is the great nephew of Virgil Thompson, and I want to thank both him and his mother, Miss Ada June, for their help in providing me with more information about this great military hero from Bath County.