CSM(R) John Thompson grew up a sharecropper’s son in Monroe County, Mississippi. When his parents moved to Wisconsin, he lived with his grandparents until he rejoined his family in Kenosha. After high school, he and four friends joined the Army under the Buddy Program, but he was the only one who was qualified. He enlisted as a heavy weapons Infantryman, and completed basic training at Ft. Carson, Colorado, and advanced infantry training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. In January 1960, he was stationed in Munich, Germany, with the 21st Infantry Regiment. During a training exercise, his unit captured Elvis Presley (Elvis untied himself and escaped). Returning from Germany in 1962, he left the military before quickly deciding he preferred Army life to being a civilian. He reenlisted, and was assigned to the 10th Infantry. In 1965, he deployed to Korea and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry (Mech), where he served as a Mortar Platoon Sergeant. After his tour in Korea, he was reassigned to the 37th Armor Regiment in Crailsheim, Germany, where he served as a Headquarters and Headquarters Company First Sergeant. From 1968 to 1969, he deployed to Vietnam and was assigned as a Mortar Platoon Sergeant in A Company, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry (Mech). During this deployment, he operated around Lai Khe, north of Ben Cat in War Zones C and D. After Vietnam, he was reassigned to Ft. Polk, and a year later he jumped at a chance to deploy to Vietnam again to get out of Ft. Polk. Upon returning to Vietnam, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry and participated in Operation Dewey Canyon II in support of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Lam Son 719 Operation in Laos. Returning from Vietnam in December 1971, he was assigned to Ft. Ord, California, before attending the Sergeants Major Academy as a member of Class 7. Following the Academy, he was assigned to Ft. Carson, Colorado, where he retired in 1980. After leaving the Army, he earned a college degree and began working sales for a computer company. Eventually he started his own computer company, which he ran for 39 years.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, joining the Army, and his continued involvement with veterans’ organizations. He described several of the leadership positions he held and provides anecdotes to help illustrate them. He highlights several of the units he was in, keying on the high state of discipline and training during the Cold War, noting that “being well trained is a comfortable feeling.” Finally, he discusses the importance of veterans’ organizations and reunions, reflecting on the feelings of camaraderie and improved morale veterans derive from these groups. He also considers what his service means to him, stating that it “made me who I am.”