Chief Hospital Corpsman [Ret]
Service Branch: United States Navy
Combat Action: Vietnam (Two Tours)
Home Town: McCook
Military Specialties: Navy Hospital Corpsman, SAR Corpsman, Combat Marine Corpsman
Units: USS Yorktown, Tonkin Gulf, Search and Rescue; Mekong River Patrol Boats, RVN; Among Others
Decorations, Citations, and Awards: - National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Civil Actions Medal, Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Numerous Citations for Valor & Civilian Medical Assistance, Military Order of the Purple Heart (Twice)
“MAYDAY…MAYDAY…MAYDAY!” Those are the last words any pilot wants to utter. Too often, they are.
In 1966, many aviators downed near North Vietnam’s coast had the good fortune to be rescued by S-A-R (Search and Rescue) helicopters. Jim Thompson was an S-A-R Corpsman on such missions, flying from the Aircraft Carrier, USS Yorktown, on station in the Tonkin Gulf. His crew flew Hueys (Uncle Sam’s UH‑1 Vietnam workhorse), CH‑47 Chinooks, or even the big Sikorsky CH-53 “Jolly Green Giants.” Several times, Jim had to descend with the extraction cable to assist a pilot who was too badly wounded to get himself into the sling. On one such occasion, Jim “rode the wire” – hanging suspended on the cable as the helo flew out of the LZ to escape enemy fire, unable to take the time to “reel him in.” On another, he was severely wounded during the extraction. For these heroic actions, Navy Corpsman James Thompson received citations for Valor and, twice, for wounds resulting from combat: the Order of the Purple Heart. Jim would make the Navy and combat field medicine his life’s career. He was just getting started.
On his second Vietnam tour in 1970, Jim was assigned to a Navy PBR (Patrol Boat, River) Squadron based on the Mekong River just below the Cambodian border. Again, he was the first medical response for wounded U.S. and RVN combatants and sick or injured civilians, treating firsthand those that he could and arranging to Med-Evac those requiring more than field treatment. Their close proximity to the border made them an almost automatic target of opportunity for frequent Viet Cong or NVA small arms fire and RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) attacks. That was to be expected, but in more than one civilian case, Jim found his life in direct jeopardy. Seems the VC resented Jim, specifically, for providing medical assistance to the civilian population and put a bounty on his head.
Jim went on to a Navy career that spanned 22 years, serving aboard all manner of Naval Vessels: PBRs, a Carrier, a Destroyer, a Salvage Vessel…even a Submarine. Besides Vietnam, he has been stationed in the Philippines, Japan, Spain and England; made two West-Pac cruises and three Med cruises, one of which remained at sea for more than 130 days without touching or seeing land due to higher-than-usual Middle East tensions.
There are people alive, today, who otherwise might not be, were it not for HMC James Thompson of McCook, Nebraska. Some of those folks didn’t get the chance to say “Thank you.” So today, we’ll say it for them.
Thank you, Chief Thompson.