Military Wiki
Floyd James Thompson
Nickname Jim Thompson
Born (1933-07-08)July 8, 1933
Died July 16, 2002(2002-07-16) (aged 69)
Place of birth Bergenfield, New Jersey, USA
Place of death Key West, Florida
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Army Special Forces
Years of service 1956 — 1982
Rank O-6/Colonel
Unit 7th Special Forces Group
Battles/wars -Vietnam War
Awards -Vietnam Military Merit Medal (1974)
-Silver Star (1974)
-Bronze Star (1974)
-Legion of Merit (1974)
-Prisoner of War Medal (1988)
-Distinguished Service Medal (1982)
-Vietnam Service Medal

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

Early life

Thompson worked for the A&P supermarket before he was drafted by the United States Army on June 14, 1956. Thompson was at first a very truculent, rebellious soldier, but then decided that he liked the military. After basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Thompson decided to make the military his career.

Military career

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

Vietnam War

Captain Thompson went to Vietnam in December 1963. 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, the observation plane (an L-19/O-1 Bird Dog) flown by Captain Richard L. Whitesides and U.S. Army Special Forces Captain Floyd J. Thompson was downed by small arms fire at 16°39′12″N 106°46′21″E / 16.65333°N 106.7725°E / 16.65333; 106.7725 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.

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

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 and starved, and suffered the mental anguish of being isolated from other US POWs. 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

The years following his homecoming, however, were far from happy. 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. He didn't have any formal education beyond OCS and hadn't even had experience as a Company Commander. 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, believing him dead, had been living with another man at the time he was repatriated. He and his wife divorced in 1975. Thompson's wife 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. Thompson later remarried, but divorced soon afterwards. Thompson was never able to form any kind of a relationship with his children. His daughters were only 6, 5 and 4 when he left and his son was born the day of his capture. Only his eldest child barely remembered him. Sadly, Thompson said that one of the things that helped him cope with his brutal imprisonment was thinking of the fine family that awaited his return. Thompson eventually became completely estranged from all his children. He developed a very serious drinking problem and was in several military hospitals for treatment. In 1977, Thompson attempted suicide with an overdose of pills and alcohol. 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 also suffered 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.[1]


A stroke that left James Thompson's left side paralyzed and his age contributed to his forced retirement from active duty in the Army. A ceremony was held for James Thompson in The Pentagon on January 28, 1982. 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[2]

Later years and Death

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 Colonel Thompson a birthday party. He was described as being in high spirit and full of excitement. During the celebration he chose to quote General Douglas MacArthur: "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away" and then he was silent. Everyone in the room sat there quietly and knew that is how Colonel Thompson wanted to go as well.

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.

Military decorations

In October 1974 James Thompson started to receive medals and awards in recognition for his service and sacrifice in Vietnam.

In October 1974 South Vietnam was the first to honor James 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.[3]

In recognition of his escape from Viet Cong POW camps Thompson received the Silver Star.[4]

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.[4]

On January 29, 1982 a retirement ceremony was held for Thompson, James Thompson received the Distinguished Service Medal in appreciation for his 25 years of service to his country as an Army Officer.[5]

A ceremony held June 24, 1988 in the White House honoring POW's 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 picked to represent POW’s from Vietnam.[6]


Distinguished Service Medal Silver Star Legion of Merit Bronze Star Prisoner of War Medal Vietnam Service Medal Vietnam Military Merit Medal
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Legion of Merit ribbon.svg
Bronze Star ribbon.svg
Prisoner of War ribbon.svg
Vietnam Service Ribbon.svg
Vietnam Military Merit Ribbon.svg

See also


  1. 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».
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 4.0 4.1 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
  5. 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
  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. 398-400, ISBN 0-393-02012-6

External links

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